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Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and 'burning the club down'

The recent success in dealing with racism on the soccer field could be an example of how to deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Except when taking into consideration that an extreme act of violence was ‘needed’ first.

Teddy stadium, where Beitar Jerusalem plays (photo: flickr / Matthew Wilkinson)

My colleague Noam Sheizaf wrote recently about the racism of the Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem. Tensions were running high in the club after it signed two Muslim players from Chechnya, and the hardcore right-wing fans – part of an organization called La Familia – were probably behind the act of arson that took place at the club’s headquarters in Jerusalem. After the arson, the pressure on the club to take care of the racism in its ranks peaked – and apparently bore fruit. Noam uses this example of outside pressure successful in the micro area of the soccer fields, and hints at the macro:

… The case of Beitar Jerusalem – for years, written off as a lost cause – teaches us that on human right issues, outside intervention is effective (perhaps it’s the only effective thing); and that public opinion and local institutions are more attentive and receptive to pressure than it seems, as long as its presented in a clear and effective way.

I agree with this assessment wholeheartedly.

But, what interests me even more in this analogy is the question it raises, at least for me: what is the arson attack, on the macro level?

When the arsonists lit the headquarters on fire, many in Israel were laughing at an inside joke. “Burning the club” is a line from a comedy sketch performed by Israel’s leading comedy-trio, Hagashash Hahiver. The following clip is a short commercial for a cable company, which has a recording of those lines from the skit from the 70s, when “burning the club” was first mentioned. Coincidentally, the two characters are a reporter – and a Beitar Jerusalem fan!

“Fan, what exactly are your demands as fans?”
“OK, we want to say who the refs will be! If not, we’ll burn the club!”
“Tell me, can you number your demands?”
“Why number if I can count them for you? OK, we want 15 wins a year, minimum. 15, yeah? If not, we’ll burn the club. We also want to say, once and for all, who the players will be, who the coaches will be, who the result will be, and who the weather will be.”
“And if this is not given?”
“We’ll burn the club.”

In time, “burning the club” became widely used in Israel as a term that meant something along the lines of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” When someone wanted to go all the way with something, even if it meant harming himself and others important to him, he’s “burning the club.” Sometimes for spite, along the lines of “if I’m going down, I’m taking everybody with me.”

So, here they were, Beitar fans, in real life, bringing the term “burning the club” into reality. Yet, I digress. My initial questions was, what is the equivalent of “burning the club” when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict? If, as Noam hinted, outside pressure is the way to go – will it only arrive after the club here is burnt? How extreme is this event? How large? How deadly?

I shudder at the thought.

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    1. Danny

      Some might argue that the club has been burned and more than once. A partial list would include the 1973 war, two intifadas, Operation Defensive Shield, incursions into Gaza, two wars in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatilla, etc., etc., etc.,etc. What outside pressures may have been tried were either rejected or given lip service or, in the best of cases were effective in the short term to deal with the immediate problem but had no meaning in terms of long-term solutions. One reason for this is those nations with the means to bring pressure have never used their influence sufficiently, always softening their demands so as not to antagonize any of the parties. Unless the foreign policies of the world’s leaders undergo significant changes, don’t expect them help extinguish the flames should there be another club burning.

      Reply to Comment
      • You raise some good points

        Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      In retrospect, the Gashashim had skits that were profound in their introspection of Israeli society. For example, the one about “Ke’ilu” (which is talked about the “as if” culture in Israel, where everything is done with a wink). I believe that one was written in the 70’s, but it’s still so applicable today that it’s scary.

      In Israel, unfortunately, while things may change on the surface, deep cultural and societal change for the better has been sorely lacking.

      Hopefully, like Ami says, some big external impetus will force Israel to meaningfully change its ways.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Amit

      to say that Israelis faught the racist outbreak in Beitar because of “outside intervention” is just a complete falsehood. there was no serious outside intervention. The Israeli society – public opinion, media, police, team managers, and even right wing politicans – all turned against the Beiter fans and opressed successfully the racist group of fans in a way that other western countries with racist fan groups can just envy.
      What made the Israeli society as a whole so furious about the Beitar fans was nothing external, it was the racist banners about “purity” that some fans held in one of the games and were shown the day after in the main headline of all Israel’s media outlates.

      Reply to Comment
      • Amit

        And instead of trying to make the story fit your ideas (that “outside intervention” is necessary), maybe you should try to actually understand what happened. How the society that 972 writers keep insisting is so racist, was mobilized as a whole -media, police, politicians, football fans, team managers, public opinion – against racism in the sport stadiums.
        In fact it was one of the most successful anti-racism crackdowns in football and sport’s history. Since the British crackdown on rioting fans there wasn’t something like that. the racist fan group got completly dismenteled. many racist fans are barred from entering games anytime soon. Some are jailed. others just gave up. the muslim player got to the field to the sounds of cheers. the game against a rival Arab group passed with only the Arab side singing nationalist and violent slogans.

        Reply to Comment
        • Burning the club passed an internal Israeli line. The question is not just if many to most Israelis found the racism objectionable overall, but what had to transpire to have that dislike turn into policy (of some sort). Israelis hurting Israelis did the trick. I would like to say that “Israeli” here is generic citizen, but that remains to be seen.

          There is clearly structural racism in Israel and their are several reasons for it. What molded that structure does not reduce to properties of Israeli Jews. It is the history leading to this structure, and the structure itself, which must be faced. And that history is not filled with well defined good and bad guys.

          Reply to Comment
      • JG

        >all turned against the Beiter fans and opressed successfully the racist group of fans in a way that other western countries with racist fan groups can just envy.

        They turned against them in a moment when they became arsonists.
        All decades before nobody had a problem with their racism.

        Reply to Comment

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