DUBAI (Reuters) – Beitar Jerusalem’s new Emirati co-owner said on Tuesday the Israeli soccer club was open to recruiting Arab players, a step likely to stir anger among its anti-Arab fan base.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, this week bought a 50% stake in the club where a group of supporters, known as “La Familia”, have been openly racist towards Israel’s Arab minority.
Beitar has never fielded an Arab player since its founding in 1936, and Muslim players who played for the club in the past had been the target of racist abuse.
“We are open. Our door is open for all the talent. No matter what is his religion or wherever he comes from,” said Sheikh Hamad, sitting alongside co-owner Moshe Hogeg in an online media briefing.
Arab citizens make up around 21 percent of Israel’s population of around 9 million and Arab players feature at Israel’s other clubs and in the national team.
Sheikh Hamad and Hogeg said they believed Beitar’s racist fans had been brainwashed and that they hoped the club would show that Jews and Muslims can work together.
Hogeg, co-founder of tech firm Sirin Labs, hailed Sheikh Hamad’s investment as a “great moment” for the club, while warning, if necessary, that it would take legal measures, including suing fans, to stop “extreme racism” at its games.
“We are not afraid of the racists. We have a plan on how to deal with that,” he said.
Sheikh Hamad bought into Beitar four months after the United Arab Emirates, breaking with decades of Arab policy, agreed to establish relations with Israel, a move that angered Palestinians and some Muslim states and communities. Bahrain and Sudan have since followed suit.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)