September 14 – The new adviser to Israel’s Beitar Jerusalem, the most nationalistic club in the country, has quit a mere 10 days after assuming the post for refusing to apologise for declaring he would never sign a Muslim player.
Eli Cohen – who had just begun his fourth stint at the club – sparked a furore when he told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that he wouldn’t bring in a Muslim player because he was a “realistic person.”
Beitar has a unique unwanted status in Israel as being the only top-flight club currently without an Arab-Israeli on its books. Three years ago, fans burned down the club’s training complex after the signing of two Muslim players and Beitar fans are known for singing anti-Arab chants.
“I experienced first-hand what happened when Muslim players came five years ago, and therefore I would not take a Muslim player into Beitar,” Cohen had said. “I had many Arab and Muslim players in the groups that I trained, from Hadera to Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa.”
“Whoever is stupid and wants to label me as a racist after this can say whatever he wants.”
Last year, 19 members of a Beitar fans group were charged with attempted murder, including of rival supporters, but the club has been trying to shed its image of far-right nationalism so Cohen’s comments did not go down well with the authorities.
Conflicting reports said he had either been fired or resigned but he later told a TV sports programme: “They’re trying to paint me as a racist. It’s disgusting. I’m broken. I gave up offers from teams such as Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Haifa. Everything has exploded in my face.”
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