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.

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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

The Green Rush [Press Association]

An article I did with the Press Association a few months back, its purview being an introduction to both the non-psychoactive and psychoactive varieties of the cannabis plant and its business potential. With 420’s recent passing – which may I say was unfortunately rather suppressed in London by the rain – and the Daily Mail’s inevitable smearing/belittling of these peaceful activists, this could never be more relevant. The overall relevance of this subject should have also been hinted at, rather forcefully, by my earlier post on cannabis. As an added bonus, a few days ago Uruguay rolled out its legalisation of cannabis and anti-Drug War activists the world over are watching, closely.



The Cannabis Industry

Market Size: Medicinal cannabis alone is worth US$1.5 bn

Sub-markets: Fibre (rope, clothing, insulation, etc.), seeds, construction, fuel, plastic, paper, foodstuff, medicine, scientific research

Other Industries it Affects: Housing, textiles, renewable and non-renewable energy, recreational and medical marijuana

Global Opportunity: Cannabis is known for its versatility and can grow comfortably on every populated continent. Worldwide, cannabis is the base of more than 25,000 individual products

Key Countries (by descending order of annual cannabis production): China, the EU, Canada, Russia, and India

Main Players (multinationals with market cap above $0.5 billion): GW Pharmaceuticals, Canna Vest, Med Box

Recent Growth: In the first weeks of 2014 cannabis stocks increased in value anywhere between 20 to 1700 per cent, depending on the submarket or locality

Forecasts: Estimated total potential value of cannabis industry after blanket legalisation is projected to be up to $50 billion

Risk Level: High

Regulatory Status: Strongly regulated, and under a de facto illegality in many legislatures

Public Perception: Very varied, highly regarded by environmentalists but in other cases is taboo

Entry Level Costs: Low

People to Watch: The non-psychoactive cannabis industry (NPCI) activists and lobbyists such as the Hemp Industries Association, and central political figures like US President Barack Obama or US Attorney General Eric Holder

Marketing Costs: Low

After the fall of the Soviet Union, China took its place as the leader of licit cannabis production. Now, China holds half of the world’s cannabis patents. In 2003-2004 China, with 24,000 tonnes grown annually according to the FOA, created 79 per cent of the world’s hemp (nearly all of the remaining fifth was produced by France and Chile).

In 2012, for the first time in history, polling in both the US and UK showed that a majority of the population wanted a relaxation of cannabis laws. On the back of favourable public sentiment towards marijuana, hemp deregulation has accelerated. Recreational marijuana’s legalisation in Uruguay, and the states of Washington and Colorado, was followed in Feb 2014 by the US president signing the Farm Act 2013 that was passed by congress. With the amended Farm Act’s enactment, hemp farming became legal for the first time in 70 years. The US was the only major economy in which hemp production was totally illicit, and its shift in policy could be the final domino that needed to fall before the NPCI could take off.

Investors in cannabis cultivation (particularly in the US), at this stage, will be riding the tide of history and monumental legislative changes. The world’s largest economy has, until this year, been largely excluded from one of the most lucrative agricultural industries ever. And, in light of American businesses’ vigorous competition with their Chinese counterparts, the US will no doubt seize the opportunity they’d previously missed.

Cannabis Timeline (post-Cold War):

1990s: Hemp regulation begins to relax throughout EU member states, after a European Economic Community (EEC) directive in 1993 makes it possible for a few farms to grow cannabis with a low THC content.

1994: Canada issues its first licenses for hemp research.

1996: Californian voters pass Proposition 215, allowing medical cannabis in spite of federal prohibition.

1998: The US begins to import food-grade hemp seed and Canada allows hemp farming for uses beyond research.

2000: Tony Blair states his agreement with the legalisation of medical cannabis, the first PM to do so since the UK illegalised the drug in 1928.

2003: Canada’s public health service is the first to offer medical cannabis to patients.

2005: GW Pharma’s Sativex, the first cannabis derived medicine, is licensed for use in Canada.

2007: The first American hemp licenses in half a century are granted to North Dakotan farmers.

2011-2012: In 2011 GOP representative Ron Paul introduces the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, and Democratic senator introduces a companion bill the year after.

2012: Recreational cannabis is legalised for the first time by a US state with the referenda in Colorado and Washington.

2013: The Farm Act 2013 is introduced to congress.

2014: The Farm Act 2013 moves through both houses of congress before being signed by the president.

2014: Uruguay rolls out its full legalisation of cannabis.



Press Association – Day 46


So this will probably be my last blog with the Press Association, and I know it’s a tired cliche but I genuinely don’t know what to say! Everyone has gone off on their placements, and even though Sarah and I can probably talk enough for 11 people (not that we are obviously, promise it’s all work work work over here), the room’s silence is eerie. A little preview maybe of what’s to come, when we all go our separate ways in a few weeks.

Last Friday night showed just how much we’d got to know each other, over 6 weeks (that feels like 6 months I’m sure you’d all agree) of a Press Association course that’s changed our perspective on a lot of things. With me anyway it certainly has, more than I could ever put in one blog, but perhaps the central lesson has been there’s a lot more to a good writer and a good journalist than most would ever guess.

Press Association – Day 35


We’re over a month in and the tone of the group therapy has gone amusingly far downhill, I think conversations about sexual experimentation and sex generally have a solid lead over everything else. So far no one other than us 11 trainees have walked in on these chats, though knowing Roberta’s sense of humour I doubt it would matter much.

I’ve also started drinking unusually high amounts of caffeine, to be honest I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner with the shut eye we’ve been getting.

Katie’s profile on me, if we can call it that, was a fun part of the past few days. I was really flattered by some of the things she said and I’m taking this opportunity while blogging to thank her publicly, as she got quite a few laughs out of us.

I was also happy the doughnuts were so well received, knowing my appetite I probably would have eaten the whole lot if they weren’t popular enough. An unhealthy addition to my diet is the last thing I need right now considering my fairly monotonous daily food schedule of tea, a banana and orange, a coffee, a cheese and onion sandwich, more fruit, a falafel sandwich, creamy falafel pasta, more tea, more coffee, a vegetable samosa, and maybe another sandwich to top it all off (there you have it Laura, probably my average food diary!).

Press Association – Day 24

Press Association Logo

Things are getting intense. Late-night work sessions have become group therapy and discussions on the magazine an assessment of each other’s stress levels.

We finally got a name, Industries 2 Invest In 2015 (i2i 2015), and we set up a twitter account for it. I like how its flexibility means we can drop or pick up sectors, should the need arise, but I’m not too sure about the “2” – it works well though in the acronym.

Lauren’s witterview was a nice break from routine, but I swear I wasted about half an hour on my bed listening to music and dossing on my phone as a result. Then again, pausing for a moment, and actually doing what you want to, can be surprisingly therapeutic when it feels like each breath not devoted to biological requirements is spent completing an assignment.

I know most people might find thinking politics relaxing a symptom of mental illness, but my conversation with the Special Branch today reminded me (among other things, naturally) how much activism means to me. And, by extension, journalism. To be able to speak to nearly anyone, instead of catering to a specific niche because of an intentional or indoctrinated linguistic elitism, is a goal meaningful enough to fuel you. To fuel the words you put on the page, or the stream of consciousness that guides them. Successfully expressing powerful ideas (or anything at all), and in the process informing thousands if not millions of people, is a no brainer. The great struggle can only be won with the great narrative, destiny made manifest by belief in the inherent value of knowledge and the ability to convey it.

Press Association – Day 13

Press Association Logo

So we’re nearly two weeks in and I have to say, three thoughts have been in my head most frequently: “This is fascinating”, “wow I’m tired and or stressed”, and “sweet Buddha I could do with a drink”. The last, on top of my several ill-advised trips to the pub, would make me seem like an alcoholic only if you didn’t really get where I was coming from with the second one (trust me). I think since this course has started the number of smokers has gone from 3 to 5 and I can testify that the number of cigarettes I have a day has gone from a sensible average of about 2-4 to double/triple that.

Now that my Johnny Raincloud crap is out the way, and I promise I won’t return to it (honestly just needed to rant at least once about the subject on this blog), I can move back in to the first thought.

Whilst scanning Oxford street and Soho with video equipment slung over my shoulder, looking for potential interviewees, I had one of those moments where I realised I loved where my life was headed. Few people can say that, and even fewer can say it openly for the fear jinxing it or sounding like a smug ass hole in front of their friends. But really those with my passions especially – one of them being far-left politics, something that incessantly refers to the will of the people – seem to place less emphasis than they should on actually going out and hearing what people have to say rather than just dancing sacrilegiously and semi-naked on public property in order to make some obscure revolutionary point. Seriously can’t get that protestor out of my head from last November, most ballsy thing I’d seen in a while (pun unashamedly intentional by the way).

Coming away from my tangent for a minute, hearing people talk about something I love as much as music and them making me rethink how it was going to evolve isn’t something you can really put a price on.