Jerusalem soccer club exemplifies Lieberman’s rightwing nationalism — and should be barred from international play [Mondoweiss]

Masked man of La Familia

Hardcore Beitar Jerusalem fans known as La Familia have become infamous with their chants of ‘death to Arabs’. [Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP]

A club with supporters who openly avow racial purity and organize violent ultra-nationalist marches is third in the Israeli Premier League, behind only Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and a hair’s breadth away from playing in the UEFA Europa League tournament. It is unconscionable that Beitar Jerusalem even reached this position; the amount of information that should guarantee their disqualification from every major domestic and international competition is staggering.

Beitar’s owner Eli Tabib announced his intention to quit after the club’s game in July 2015 against Charleroi in Belgium, citing the fans’ vandalism and violence in the form of flares fired onto the field mid-match and objects hurled injuring the opposing goalkeeper.

The Jerusalem Post reported two months ago “a large contingent from the La Familia group of hardcore Beitar Jerusalem fans helped rally supporters to the demonstration [to free the Kfir Brigade soldier, Elor Azarya], and were filmed chanting “Kahane lives!”. The soldier on trial was the one captured in Hebron, on film released by B’Tselem, murdering a previously shot, incapacitated attacker lying on his back. These extrajudicial executions are supposed to violate the injunctions issued by the Lieutenant-General and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, stipulating military personnel “are obligated to fire when threats to life exist, but that when the threat is gone, there cannot be any reason to continue firing”.

Nevertheless, the former foreign minister and new defense minister Avigdor Lieberman declared, despite the law, on the steps of Kiryat Malachi’s military court, that he had come “to support the soldier and to counter-balance the gross meddling of the prime minister and defence minister [at the time Moshe Ya’alon].” If upholding the law is meddling, how does Lieberman define the company he is keeping in the form of far-right sympathisers of Kach, the fascist movement proscribed by the Knesset for Jewish terrorism and responsible for a man’s slaughter of 29 and wounding of 125 others praying at the Ibrahimi Mosque. On the other hand, this is the man who tried to make the installation of an unprecedented, ethnically selective death penalty a condition of his recruitment by Netanyahu’s struggling coalition.

When asked about his support for Beitar, Lieberman described the club with pride as the embodiment of Israeli nationalism and its right-wing. He’s one of the fans, this key minister, and as scary as it is, embodies what he’s referring to as much as the racists beside him.

Standing up for killers, rather than their victims, is a habit of Israel’s hard-right. In March we also saw the attack on the home of a key witness in the Ali Saad Dawabsheh case (where an eighteen-month-old toddler died in an arson attack by settlers), apparently small beer for religious extremists comfortable being filmed celebrating the burning of a baby, which they were according to Channel 10 footage of a wedding in Jerusalem last year.

In 2012 Beitar Jerusalem’s hyper-aggressive football fans stormed into the Malha shopping mall, looking for its Arab cleaners and other non-Jewish staff to harm. Despite CCTV footage, no one was arrested. Witnesses weren’t sufficient either; several shopkeepers in the mall stated that the football hooligans asked them for knives and other weapons. The Malha is a few hundred metres from Beitar Jerusalem’s home, the Teddy Stadium, right next to the Green Line that separates East and West Jerusalem, as if theinflaming of ethnic tensions described wasn’t sensitive and dangerous enough.

The impunity of Beitar Jerusalem’s violent racists continued in 2013 when the club’s president, Arkady Gaydamak, was bullied into retracting his signing of two non-Jewish players: the Chechen Muslims Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev. What happened next to only the fourth and fifth non-Israelis ever hired by Beitar Jerusalem was a cascade of harassment rooted in ethnic and religious hatred. Members of La Familia told the Independent’s reporter at their March 3 game that year with Maccabi Netanya that “it’s not racism, they [the Muslims] just shouldn’t be here” and another stated “the club’s existence is under threat”. The signing of the Chechens was so unacceptable to some fans that they decided (in a deed of cosmic irony unbeknownst to Zionism’s self-defeating settler advocates as they keep nurturing the egalitarian one-state solution’s inevitability) to set their club’s office on fire. One of Beitar Jerusalem’s staff lamented “all our history is gone” as he sifted through the charred remains.

The response from Beitar management wasn’t adequate. When Gaydamak tried to condemn unequivocally the supremacist philosophy that motivated the crime, by spelling out that “as far as I’m concerned, there is no difference between a Jewish player and a Muslim player”, he was contradicted promptly by team coach Eli Cohen who justified the hate surrounding him as disdain for Arab rather than European Muslims. At the culmination of his investigation in to Beitar, a case of racial hated that had picked up national and international coverage, Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein meted out a measly fine of 50,000 shekels (or £8595) as punishment and ordered the eastern stands of Teddy Stadium be kept clear for just 5 games. 

To put the bigotry into context, remember that Israeli-Arabs, most of whom are Muslim, comprise 20% of the nation. Not to mention that Arab football players, or predominantly Arab teams, have been a part of Israeli life since its founding, and teams such as Hapoel Tybee, Achei Nazareth, and Bnei Sachnin regularly participate in the country’s premier league.

Stephanie Westbrook /

In 2012, the Mossawa Centre and the Coalition Against Racism (CAR) tried to remind FIFA, UEFA, and their subsidiary the Israeli Football Association (IFA), of their commitment to fight discrimination, with a letter requesting that each of these authorities investigate and clamp down on the racism in Israeli sport which, as the complaint clearly showed, is rampant compared to much of the European community the IFA claims to be a part of.

The Mossawa Centre cited the 2011 Bnei Sachnin game, Mohammed Ghadir’s potential signing, the 2012 Malha incident, Beitar’s winning of the Israeli Cup, the recurrent incitement of Beitar Jerusalem player Ben Shushan, Limor Livnat’s committee, and the conduct of the IFA itself.

After losing to Bnei Sachnin, Beitar fans assaulted the opposing players and threw stones through car windows, and when Beitar won the Israeli Cup their player Amit Ben Shushan shouted along with fans “I hate all the Arabs!”… the same fans used later to reject Maccabi Haifa striker Mohammed Ghadir’s expression of interest in joining the club on the ludicrous grounds that it might offend them.

Ben Shushan publicly threatened the life of individuals on the basis of race, but was only ordered by the IFA to give a few lectures on tolerance to youth groups. A pattern emerges of the IFA and other supposedly ethical, supervising organizations letting lethal extremists off the hook if they have the right ethnic profile or political leaning. When the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sports, Limor Livnat, actually convened a committee on racism in Israeli football, it didn’t include a single person of Arab descent.

How did we get to the place where the mere suspicion that Mario Balotelli broke down in tears because of abuse suffered at the hands of racist Neapolitans can spark debate in Italian and foreign sports coverage, but Israeli law enforcement officers stand by as one of their national team’s core supporters shouts “Kahane lives!” and “Mohammed is dead!” in Sacher Park? These same ‘protesters’ later asked passersby the time while listening out for Arabic or an Arab accent so they could violently assault them; assaults promised earlier on La Familia’s facebook page when they declared their intention to “march to the Wailing Wall, trampling anyone who tries to stop us or hurt us”.

Prominent Israeli public figures have shown up at more than one rally attended by the likes of La Familia and Lehava. Why wouldn’t they when Beitar Jerusalem can count among its enthusiastic backers Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Avigdor Lieberman? Such associations don’t seem to bother the PM, despite his promises to crack down on Jewish as well as Arab terrorism, and organized ultra-nationalist movements, after the revelations confirming the ties of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s suspected immolators to La Familia (the men “admitted they poured petrol on him and burned him alive”, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld). Finally last week, Yosef Chaim Ben-David was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 20 years, but this glimmer of hope doesn’t undermine the overwhelming truth that the Israeli Football Association stands by as fascistic violence continues all around it. The IFA must be aware that this behaviour would not be tolerated by the ruling body of virtually any other football league, or even under their own regulations were there the willpower to enforce them rather than the relentless prioritization of surface-level damage control and public relations.

Some measure of justice may have been found for Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s family, but until FIFA and all the relevant football bodies do their part, they will be complicit in the two-tier citizenship that has been institutionalised in Israel; and those Arab-Israelis who merely seek the same opportunity as their peers to play the sport they love, in dignity and without fear, will continue to go unrepresented.

– See more at:


Protest for Palestine

After quite a long hiatus, here it is! Sorry for the wait 🙂


Friends of Al-Aqsa whiteboard Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) whiteboard signed by demonstrators at London’s 17 October “Protest for Palestine

I asked two of our PSC branch’s most active members, who attended the protest, what they took away from it in hindsight.

Q – How many people would you say attended the march? And what was the general atmosphere?

A – [Jihan:] There were at least a thousand people on both sides of the road, Kensington High Street, and as soon as everyone arrived the atmosphere was alive and heaving with chants of passion and solidarity. A warm, welcoming, and powerful vibe of humanity arose from people of all colours, religions, and backgrounds. A truly empowering and uplfting feeling to be among so many determined to be heard and to make a change.

Q – What was, in your mind, its main objective? The main reason you went?

A – [Jihan:] The main objectives were to…

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The second piece I posted on behalf of Slough’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and an introduction to the national movement for my followers!


Mads Gilbert in Oslo Airport Screenshot of Norwegian channel TV2’s filming of Dr Mads Gilbert, and his open-armed welcome, after returning to Oslo Airport from Gaza in 2014.

Some words are bandied about more liberally than they’re understood. Dr Mads Gilbert decided, at the end of his SOAS talk – which I had the harrowing privilege of seeing – last month, to clarify the meaning of solidarity: the expression of unity over pity. Not pity, such as the kind expressed by an isolated thought or prayer or cheque, but the unity of one’s actions and beliefs with those of the oppressed.

It is the solidarity described by Dr Gilbert that connects his backbreaking work in Shifa hospital last summer with the Italian pilot who made headlines by announcing “welcome to Palestine” to his passengers, the flotilla towed away by the Israeli navy as it tried to bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza, the US state department when it refused…

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Sufism, Israelites, and an anthology of Yahia Lababidi [Times of Israel]

Sufi mysticism painting

Abstract depiction of a Mevlevi dervish performing Sama (“listening”), labelled one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritages of Humanity by the United Nations

Abstract depiction of a Mevlevi dervish performing Sama (“listening”), labelled one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritages of Humanity by the United Nations

On August 18th, towards the end of the last brutal assault on Gaza, Cairene Sufi poet Yahia Lababidi published the poem “An Open Letter to Israel” on Electronic Intifada. Lababidi began his letter with the poignant Nietzschean call for all those fighting monsters to not become monsters. With his message, much as the preluding quote’s source intended, Lababidi meant to implore the Israelis to recognise the humanity in their enemies; to recognise the humanity of extremists within Hamas’, however suppressed it may be, to recognise the humanity in the Palestinian people they persecute and whose desperate circumstances generate desperate reactions.

The letter’s gentle request befit the review of Idries Shah’s magnum opus The Sufis – a text 50 years old as of Autumn 2014 – by UK Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, once listed as the fourth greatest British writer post-1945, who declared Sufis “must be the biggest society of reasonable men on Earth”.

To reiterate Lababidi’s message in the words of hugely popular American educator, historian, and author of New York Times number 1 bestseller The Fault in Our Stars (2012), John Green, who jumped not-so-tentatively (considering the mainstream stance of US legislators) in to the Israel-Palestine issue by stating: “Both parties claim to be responding to the provocations of the other, but much of the conflict reflects a consistent failure on all sides to understand the legitimacy of the other’s narrative. To Palestine, the Palestinian people have been denied a state not just since the formation of Israel, but also for decades before that. Now they live under what amounts to a military occupation. […] To Israel, the Jewish people clearly need a homeland, which the United Nations established.”

Lababidi, attendee at international poetry festivals throughout the USA, Europe, and Near East, and writer of The Artist as Mystic (2012) and Fever Dreams (2011), is merely the latest Sufi poet and intellectual to participate in an ancient dialogue between the people of Israel and the woollen-clothed.

A good place to start one’s wanderings in to the Sufi-Jewish interaction and exchange is the eponymous Maimunist thought of Avraham Maimuni, otherwise known as Abraham Maimonides (d. 1237). Abraham was the son of Moses Maimonides, widely considered to be by far the most influential Jewish philosopher and theologian of the two millennia that’s passed since the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE (and generally among the greatest religious philosophers in history).

Abraham Maimonides was the appointed Nagid (“leader”) of the Jewish population in 12th century Egypt at 19 years old, succeeding Moses Maimonides after his death due to his son’s recognition as the greatest scholar in the community secind to only himself. Historian Shelomo Dov Goitein believes Moses Maimonides’ selection for the post was a result of the skills displayed during negotiations for the release of Jewish prisoners taken by the Crusader king Amalric in his attack on the Egyptian town of Bilbays. Famously, Abraham’s father’s position as Nagid was just one of the many manifestations of his political ascendancy (for instance he served as the court physician of Salahuddin Ayubi, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty).

The most known work of Abraham Maimonides is Milhamoth ha-Shem (“The Book of the Wars for God”), which is an expansion of his father’s Moreh Nevukhim (“The Guide for the Perplexed”) and a reply to its critics (he was spurred on, after an initial hesitancy, when he heard of burnings of his father’s books in Montpellier). Though, somewhat astonishingly if his initial reticence was sincere, Abraham’s principal treatise was three times the length of Moreh Nevukhim. Abraham advocated what would later be described as Maimunism, a fusion of Sufi and Jewish thought which he considered a purer expression of truly monotheistic devotion, or the central concept in Islamic philosophy Tawhid (“the oneness”).

Abraham believed that the development of a Sufistic Judaism was a precursor to the arrival of the messiah and his ideas would later prove seminal in the history of Jewish spirituality/mysticism, ideas which included innovative practices like Jews praying in rows, and the frequent mixing of the Jewish and Islamic mystic terminologies. Abraham also publicly stated his belief in the virtues that paved the Sufi path, as he saw it, such as sincerity, mercy, generosity, gentleness, humility, faith, and contentedness.

Today, the status of Sufis, and of Jews more likely to be inspired by Islamic mysticism (Sephardim, et al), or that of both of these in Israel specifically, is perhaps not as hopeful as Abraham Maimonides envisioned.

The second-class citizenship of non-Ashkenazi Jews in Israel is well documented, even if it is deteriorating along with its more overarching cousin white supremacy, and is being addressed by the generation of intellectuals embodied by the New Mizrahim.

The renowned Qadiri Sheikh Ghassan Menasra of Nazareth, the Arab capital of Israel, told Haaretz of a Sufi Muslim population squeezed on two fronts: on the one hand, shameful levels of neglect by successive Israeli governments of its non-Jewish majority areas, and on the other, increasing (at the very least in part, as Menasra points out, due to their massive foreign funding there and around the world from individuals such as those in the verifiably extreme, hard-right, and offensively wealthy element of the Saudi aristocracy and Arabian Peninsula’s wider elite) pressure from often viciously anti-Jewish ultra-conservative Salafi and Wahhabi elements who have on occasion beaten more liberal or progressive Muslim contemporaries within an inch of their lives simply for having differing views on things as simple as the permissibility of instruments in chant or ḏikr (“remembrance”).

Sheikh Menasra also said that among the beaten were himself, and two of his five children. One of Menasra’s sons was beaten by a group of men while he sheltered his younger brother from the melee, and on a separate occasion gas was thrown in to the Sheikh’s home.

Expressions of solidarity and deeper communication between the Jewish and Islamic mystics have arguably attained an unprecedented importance; Jews and Muslims each live in a time when the religious right in their respective faiths are striving for undisputed dominance of the narrative/political agenda, and, if the tragedy wasn’t compounded enough, often to pit one against the other.

“To shield yourself against the evils of this world, keep your lips wet with the taste of revelation. A free person has no enemies.” – Yahia Lababidi

Cold War 2.0 [Times of Israel]

American tanks in Kuwait

Photo of the American armoured division in Kuwait, during the Gulf War and first major “Post-Cold War” deployment

Members of my generation could be forgiven lately for questioning whether or not we were born after the Cold War ended; or – even more troublingly – wondering if we’re currently experiencing a twisted ‘hotter’ Cold War 2.0. House Resolution 758, now sitting on the desks of the senate after passing quietly (to this moment a google search reveals reports in only two high-profile news outlets, the IBT and RT) on December 4th, would certainly spur such a line of enquiry.

The planetwide geopolitical game between the empires of the “first world” (the “old powers” embodied by the United States, and its key allies such as the UK and Israel) and “second world” (the “new powers” Russia and China) never ceased, the stakes are simply higher as the previous time an ageing superpower was replaced violently by its successor was in the case of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War and its related conflicts. And of course, in the late 1700s, truly global hegemony and nuclear arms races weren’t a reality.

Three days ago the US president was authorised to pursue, without further congressional approval, aggressive military procedures against Russia. The parameters of the legislation allows specifically, for example: the immediate, massive, and long-term deployment of NATO forces throughout Eastern Europe (including technically, undoubtedly, active theatres such as Donbas). Perhaps the recent escalation and ongoing events in Ukraine are, as some feared at the time of Crimea’s annexation, just a preview of what’s to come. The 1990s and fall of the Berlin Wall now look like a shift that imperial forces didn’t predict, leading only to a temporary cooling of the hostility that prevailed between major powers in the post-war years.

Russia’s mafia regime, for its part, now owns a military-industrial complex that has been given the power to assume total control should open war officially reach inside Russian borders. Meaning, in the wake of a spill-over from Eastern Ukraine (to take one “World War Three Scenario”, as the Pentagon calls them), the Duma could be disbanded and replaced with an entirely overt military dictatorship.

Putin’s sky-high popularity and rhetoric suggests the Russians would be amenable to such measures, after all he claimed in his annual address (amid, quite significantly, an atmosphere of continually ascending paranoid authoritarianism) that the west had been trying to “subvert” Russia for centuries. Evidently Putin has half a point, but the Great Game, and invasion of Afghanistan the following century, were far from being one-sided affairs.

The brinkmanship in Syria, and that between Iran and Israel (manifested by the nuclear negotiations), could be broken down along similar lines to the Ukrainian Civil War.

To boot, all this occurs on the centennial anniversary of World War One’s beginning.

“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” – William Tecumseh Sherman

55 Years in Tibet [Times of Israel]

Tibetan Jampa Yeshi self-immolation

Reuters photo of 27-year-old Tibetan exile, Jampa Yeshi, setting himself alight near New Delhi protestors

After a half-century of occupation, self-immolations, the exile of an ancient spiritual community and its leader from their ancestral land, the cold-blooded assassination of pilgrims and monastics by Chinese soldiers, a million-strong genocide, and rampant political corruption, the Dalai Lama told AFP this week that he is in informal talks with the PRC that would allow him to return to Tibet.

This follows conciliatory gestures on both sides, Gyatso described President Xi Jinping as “more open-minded” than his predecessors, a statement that might have been inspired by the latter’s open congratulation of Buddhism’s prominent and positive role in Chinese society.

Our “leaders'” quietening silence however, as the PRC’s wealth grows, will be a source of eternal shame as pundits laud what they see as the success of one of the planet’s greatest human rights violators. The Chinese “communists” execute more people than the rest of the world’s governments combined, fill colossal prisons with men and women of conscience whose nobility won’t stop their organs being harvested by the state, the litany of crimes is almost as great as that of the imperial powers who enabled/enable them. But, if anybody can express solidarity with the political dissidents in China, as Gyatso has with the Uighur activists whose plight received none of the attention now showered on Hong Kong’s democrats, it is the Tibetans.

When people say “what about Tibetan feudalism”, as if a society that falls short enough of perfection deserves a brutal and prolonged military subjugation, should take a long hard look in the mirror. What about Palestine, you think Palestinian society was perfect before Zionist extremists arrived? You think the peoples of Africa had achieved utopia before Europeans raped their nations? Arbitrary solidarity is an ultimate betrayal of the international working class to which true leftists are always loyal, as it demonstrates an acquiescence to the anti-humanistic, imperialistic geopolitical agendas of their greatest enemies. Those without such an acquiescence, and who possess a sincere concern for the plight of Tibetan serfs under feudal theocracy, would never advocate its replacement with centralism or autocracy. As is perhaps always the case, the Tibetans stand a better chance of forging their own path to freedom than having it forced upon them, if that were even possible.

May the 14th Dalai Lama’s pilgrimage end happier than that of the forgotten dead in the Himalayan snows. In Rasley’s words… chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.

“Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight. My heartfelt wish is that my story may create some understanding for a people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world.” – Heinrich Harrer


Palestine in Parliament

On the 13th October the British parliament is voting on whether to recognise the state of Palestine. Historically, when faced with such measures at the UN or nationally, the UK has usually abstained or been against. But these days, who knows. In 3 weeks, we will find out if the winds are indeed blowing in a new direction. Shamefully few MPs have stated their intention to participate in the debate, unsurprisingly the Conservatives are the worst offenders.

If you want an idea of what to write to your representative, this is what I composed for my letter to Tory MP Steve Brine for Winchester.

I hope this email finds you well. My understanding is that you haven’t signalled your intention to attend a debate on the recognition of Palestinians’ right to self-determination. On the right of the stateless non-Jewish indigenous in the West Bank and Gaza to their own nation.

As recently as July 11th, Netanyahu made clear that the Israeli government would never relinquish security control of the area west of the Jordan River. So where does that leave us? In a permanent and intolerable state of limbo, with ethno-religious apartheid in the region dominated by Israel’s military and the illegal settlements it protects. The Palestinians didn’t vote for Likud, yet their administration and its supremacist policies are what they find themselves subjected to every day the 47 year old occupation continues.

Even if you, like me, have you reservations about the plausibility of a two-state solution (how can you not with statements like the one from Netanyahu I recalled above). You must accept the need for secularism and equality, nationalism which isn’t predicated on treating any religious or ethnic group as second class citizens. The vote itself, at the very least, will demonstrate the will of the British people to have the human rights of every inhabitant of Israel-Palestine respected. I can’t force you to vote in any particular direction, but I can ask you to fall on the right side of history and of peace and justice. Or, even, just that you participate in the debate and struggle over these things.