American Jewish dove buys soccer club in Israel that racially taunts Palestinians

Beitar Jerusalem fans are known for racial taunting of Palestinians and Ashkenazi Jews. (File Photo)

Beitar Jerusalem fans are known for racial taunting of Palestinians and Ashkenazi Jews. (File Photo)
The purchase of troubled Israeli Premier League soccer club Beitar Jerusalem, known for its fans racial taunting of Palestinians and Ashkenazi Jews, by two American businessmen, one of whom is associated with supporters of Israel’s peace camp, promises to produce an interesting dynamic.

The two businessmen -- Adam Levin, managing director of private equity fund Criterion Capital Partners and chief executive of social media company Bebo, and Dan Adler, owner of California consulting firm Media Eagles and a former board member of the Israel Policy Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- bought Beitar from Israeli-Russian billionaire businessman Arkady Gaydamak.

Mr. Adler attracted national media attention with a failed, long shot run for the United States Congress in a Democratic congressional primary earlier this year.

Critics charged that a comical campaign advertisement supporting Mr. Adler featuring an elderly Korean woman with a thick accent who asked, “What’s a mensch (a German word for human being used by Jews to describe someone who is decent and compassionate)?” promoted stereotypes of Asians. Mr. Adler’s wife is of Korean descent.

Beitar, one of Israel’s most storied clubs, has not released details of the deal negotiated and signed in London with the participation of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, but said the new owners would “take on the financial responsibility of the team in order to stabilize the budget and meet its obligations.’’

Israeli sports Website One reported that the club has $400,000 in debt.

The purchase by Messrs. Adler and Lewin saved Beitar from being put under administration.

Beitar, widely viewed as Israel’s most nationalistic club, said that Messrs. Levin and Adler had “made an investment in Beitar as a long-term investment, and they see it as a contribution to strengthen Jerusalem and Israel, rather than business investment.’’

The winner of Israel’s Premier League and cup championships in 2008, Beitar’s performance has since slipped after Mr. Gaydamak cut funding following a devastating result in a Jerusalem mayoral election and a series of financial scandals that persuaded him to leave Israel.

Beitar, once Israel’s richest club as a result of Mr. Gaydamak’s initial largesse, finished this year 11th in the 16-team division, narrowly avoiding relegation.

Mr. Gaydamak’s 20065 acquisition of Beitar was likened at the time to Roman Abramovich’s purchase of English giants Chelsea in 2004.

Mr. Levin’s politics are in stark contrast to those of Beitar’s fan base, many of whom reject the notion of a Palestinian state.

In an interview with Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahranot, Mr. Adler sidestepped questions about the discrepancy in views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I know Beitar has a certain reputation — or rather, that a portion of the fans has a certain reputation…We believe that Jerusalem is a city where all types of people must live,” Mr. Adler said. He went on to say that “we will change the character of the crowd.”

Beitar has the worst disciplinary record in Israel’s Premier League. Since 2005 it has faced more than 20 hearings and has received various punishments, including points deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors because of its fans’ racist behavior.

Beitar’s matches often resemble a Middle Eastern battlefield. It’s mostly Sephardic fans of Middle Eastern and North African origin, revel in their status as the bad boys of Israeli soccer. Their dislike of Ashkenazi Jews of East European extraction rivals their disdain for Palestinians.

Supported by Israeli right wing leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Beitar traces its roots to a revanchist Zionist youth movement. Its founding players actively resisted the pre-state British mandate authorities.
Beitar is Israel’s only leading club never to have signed an Israeli Arab player because of fan pressure.

Beitar fans shocked Israelis when they refused to observe a moment of silence for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who initiated the first peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Its racist outbursts have prompted the Israeli Football Association to become the Middle East’s only soccer institution to launch a campaign against racism and discrimination.


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