Fighting Violence and Racism in Israeli Soccer

18 June 2015

As Israel wraps up its 2014-15 soccer season, NIF published its latest report on the weekly incidences of racism, violence, and racial incitement in the stadium. The data was collected by 30 volunteer fans in conjunction with NIF’s long-running Kicking Out Racism and Violence program. The report compiles the research alongside analysis by a company that monitors Israeli soccer social networks for racist and violence (as well as positive and tolerant) discussions.

This year we found that the system of punishing teams (taking away points that determine who gets to the playoffs and who doesn’t) for violent and racist incidents on the field was very successful in reducing those incidents over the course of the season. After the decision of the Israeli Football Association court to take points away from Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv, no more significant incidents of physical violence were recorded in those teams’ remaining games.

The Kicking Out Racism and Violence program keeps this issue in the public spotlight during the year by reaching out to media and social networks.

There was also progress made with Beitar Jerusalem – a club infamous for its anti-Arab fanbase and which leads the standings for racist behavior over the last few years. After a number of fans were banned from the games following racist comments, racist chants became nearly nonexistent.

Hapoel Tel Aviv showed the greatest positive transformation over the course of the season as the online discussions of its fans became increasingly tolerant when they made a real effort to clean up their act after the disciplinary court got involved early in the season.

It is also important to note that out of 22 incidents of racist taunting recorded by our observers among all the teams during the season, only 6 were brought to the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court. And the top five players who were the victims of the greatest amount of racist and inciting slurs were all Arab, including the most attacked player – Salim Toameh – who, despite no longer playing actively in the Premier League, was insulted constantly.

Hapoel Katamon should also be noted for its exceptionally positive and accepting atmosphere. Before one game, the club swapped its traditional flags around the stadium for LGBT rainbow flags. According to the research, 63% of the team’s fans on Facebook supported the move. Following the game, Kicking Out Racism and Violence held a special event together with Hapoel Katamon and amateur LGBT players. The event was held on the International Day against Homophobia in May.

This week also marked the end of the very successful “Team of Equals” soccer camp for Jewish and Arab children in Jerusalem sponsored by NIF, the East Jerusalem Soccer Academy, and the Hapoel Katamon club. The camp, which included 100 children between the ages of 10 and 12, aimed not only at teaching the children about soccer, but also at taking practical steps towards shared living and greater tolerance in the city.

At a ceremony held on Tuesday, every child was given a medal and congratulated for his sportsmanship and teamwork during the camp. The kids did drills with professional trainers and soccer players every day of the camp. Jews and Arabs mixed together and were indistinguishable in their “Team of Equals” jerseys. For many of them, this was their first contact with children from “the other side.” Along with their medals, each child received a certificate signifying that they had participated in the 2014-2015 season of “Team of Equals” and that they had contributed to the values of “equality, mutual respect and fairness in soccer.”

Since the camp started, requests have poured in from parents all over Jerusalem to hold more events like this.