At the end of a Facebook video encouraging sportsmanlike conduct by fans from one of Israel’s most notoriously racist soccer clubs, those surrounding Miri Regev break out into chants of ‘burn your village,’ directed at the opposing team — from an Arab city in Israel.
It’s not every day that a senior government minister, who a week earlier was Israel’s acting prime minister for several days, publishes a video of herself smiling as she is embraced by people letting out genocidal chants. Then again, this is the same minister who a few years ago called African asylum seekers in Israel “a cancer,” only to apologize a few days later — to cancer patients.
Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev on Monday attended a soccer game between Beitar Jerusalem, a team known for its and its fans’ anti-Arab racism, and Bnei Sakhnin, an Arab squad from northern Israel. At the end of a short message encouraging and praising a sportsmanlike atmosphere at the game, the fans gathered around her break out into chants of “burn down your village” (alternatively translated as “May your village be burned”). She continues smiling and says nothing.
One must ask why a senior government minister who is no stranger to social media decided not to edit out the final seconds of the video. It would be hard to blame her for the reactions of people around her, some of whom clearly were looking to provoke on camera. But the decision to publish genocidal chants is troubling.
In contrast to Regev’s video and non-condemnation, Beitar Jerusalem’s management wasted no time denouncing the chants and announcing steps it plans to take to combat racism at games, including shutting down an entire section of its stands used by notoriously racist fans. (The club’s quick reaction can be explained by a suspended sentence it faces from the league for past racist incidents. Other chants at the stadium that night reportedly included: “I hate all Arabs” and “Muhammad is dead.”)
Racism in soccer is certainly not a phenomenon unique to Israel. And to their credit, after years in which racist chants translated into actual violence (a year and a half ago Israeli police conducted a six-month undercover investigation into the club’s most notoriously racist and violent fan group, La Familia, which resulted in 47 arrests and 19 indictments), authorities do appear to be doing slightly more to combat racism in soccer stadiums.
Furthermore, racism among sports fans is more about latent and overt racism within society itself than the sport: it’s safe to say that just because fans feel empowered to express racism in certain consequence-free situations doesn’t mean that they don’t harbor the same racist sentiments elsewhere, even if they are smart enough not to chant about them at work or in line at the supermarket.
However, for the culture and sports minister to not address, challenge, or condemn genocidal chants of “burn your village” from sports fans standing right next to her, published in a video on her own Facebook under the guise of encouraging good sportsmanship, feels far more sinister — almost like a wink of approval.