Shaul Adar

Aug 29, 2022

On the Border

The Rise and Decline of the Most Political Club in the World

Pitch Publishing 2022

In December 2020, an Israeli football club made worldwide headlines. The news that a UAE royal had bought 50 per cent of Beitar's shares shook Israel and the football world. Beitar, proclaimed by some of its own fans as 'the most racist club in the country', is a club like no other in Israel. While Israeli football as a whole is a space where Israelis of all ethnicities and foreigners can co-exist, Beitar won't even sign a Muslim player for fear of its own far-right supporters' group, La Familia. 

On the Border: The Rise and Decline of the Most Political Club in the World (Pitch Publishing, 2022) is the fascinating tale of a club that began as a sports movement of a liberal national Zionism party and became an overt symbol of right-wing views, Mizrahi identity and eventually hardcore racism and nationalism. The book explores the radicalisation of Beitar and the fight for the soul of the club between the racists and open-minded fans. It is also a story of Jerusalem, the most volatile place on Earth, and how the holy city and the influence of religion have shaped Beitar. Founded in 1936, the club took its name from a Zionist organization set up in 1923 by students in the capital of Latvia, Riga, following a visit by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Zionist Revisionist and founder of the para­military group Irgun. Beitar’s story mirrors that of its city. For thirty years, under the British Mandate, impoverished young Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries) had kicked a ball around Jerusalem’s Musrara neighbourhood with Arab friends. The war of 1948 changed that. Subsequent events sharpened the divide, leading to the unrepentant racism of La Familia, Beitar “ultras” who began by making monkey noises at a player from Cameroon and graduated to chants threatening death to Arabs. Employing violence and intimi­dation, they ensured no Muslim could play for Beitar, thereby betraying a key element of Jabotinsky’s scheme – equality for Arabs.

Roberto Mazza is visiting professor at Northwestern University. He is the host of the Jerusalem Unplugged Podcast and to discuss and propose a book for interview can be reached at robbymazza@gmail.com. Twitter and IG: @robbyref

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Roberto Mazza

Roberto Mazza is visiting professor at Northwestern University. He is the host of the Jerusalem Unplugged Podcast and to discuss and propose a book for interview can be reached at robbymazza@gmail.com. Twitter: @robbyref

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