Netanyahu may claim to speak for all his citizens, but he doesn’t miss an opportunity to incite against a full quarter of the population – Arab Israelis – even if it’s based on fake news.
On Sunday, Netanyahu posted an article on his Facebook page from Arutz 7 – a national religious news site – that claimed that during a soccer match against Hapoel Ra’anana, fans of Bnei Sakhnin, an Israeli Arab team, booed during a moment of silence for 10 Israeli teenagers killed in a tragic flash flood last weekend.
Netanyahu wrote “It is an utter disgrace. I expect every public leader, Jews and non-Jews alike to condemn such disgusting behavior,” while publishing a screenshot of the Arutz 7 article. Five days later the post was quietly deleted. As with Netanyahu’s 2015 election day appeal that the left was “bussing the Arabs to the polls,” the story was fabricated.
Commentator Ran Malobani, who broadcast the match from Doha stadium in Sakhnin, said that he heard no booing whatsoever while the owner of Hapoel Ra’anana. Asher Alon, who was at the match, told Ha’aretz newspaper: “There was absolute silence, not even a whistle, no noise whatsoever.” “I have no idea what people want from Sakhnin, their behavior was exemplary. I would expect from the prime minister to do his homework before spewing hatred.”
Watch the minute of silence before the match:
What is most noteworthy about Netanyahu’s decision to speak out against the B’nei Sakhnin is not even how erroneous his post was but how the prime minister’s vocal criticism contrasted with a record of almost absolute silence about real fanaticism in Israeli soccer culture.
Netanyahu roots for Beitar Jerusalem F.C., a team notorious for its hooligan fan wing, La Familia, which organizes ultra-nationalist protests across the country. La Familia is notorious for slogans like “Mohammed is dead” and “Death to Arabs,” along with chanting praises for Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, during a moment of silence for the slain prime minister. More recently, La Familia agitators issued threats against IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot’s life during the trial of Elor Azaria, a soldier who shot and killed an immobilized terrorist in Hebron. When Beitar Jerusalem, which has never signed an Arab player, brought on two Chechen Muslims in the 2012-13 season, the new additions from the North Caucasus faced constant harassment from fans. The prime minister once condemned La Familia’s hooliganism at a game in Europe but has been conspicuously quiet on their activities in Israel itself.
Of course, Netanyahu’s enthusiastic criticism of Bnei Sakhnin shouldn’t be surprising. Race-baiting has worked for the prime minister before. This kind of pandering is one area where Netanyahu can shore up support from his base in the face of a growing challenge from his right in the form of Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi party. Where the prime minister can be seen by right-wing critics as indecisive or weak on settlements, he can reliably burnish his nationalist bona fides with a jab at Israel’s Arab citizens, even if it means spoiling the beautiful game.
Eli W. Kowaz is Israel Policy Forum’s Communications Director, based in New York, NY.
Rachel Zaurov is a recent graduate of McGill University, where she studied Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies, engaged actively in campus Israeli-Palestinian debates and dialogue, and wrote on the issue for McGill publications. She currently interns at the Israel Policy Forum in New York.