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Quite Unsportsman-like Behavior

By Yisrael Medad
11/7/2007, 12:00 AM

Jerusalem's Betar soccer team may find itself without fans in the stands for the next half-year, if the soccer federation's tribunal decides so.

Truth tell, ever since I've been in Israel I have never watched a soccer game from inside a stadium, especially in Jerusalem.  I love the game - on television.  Somehow, the ambience doesn't agree with me.  But, like Voltaire, I disagree with punishing someone for saying something, as unpopular as it may be to our left-wing dominated media and the wishy-washy politicians who didn't like the booing of Yitzhak Rabin's memory by Betar fans at Haifa last Sunday evening.

This evening, I watched an interview program on the subject (moderated by a longtime Channel One employee who, a few years back, jumped ship and became the Centrist Party's spokesperson - just to illustrate how "objective" our media is).  One guest, Professor Avi Ben-Tzvi, a sports enthusiast, noted, quite properly, that in the United States, unlike in Israel and many countries in Europe, no high chainlink fences separate the fans from the playing field and yet there is little, if at all, violence on the playing field of the sort we see at soccer games where fans pour onto the pitch.

However, as I wrote to him, every baseball fan has at one time or another in his life screamed out "Kill the Umpire!".  And, of course, that's the difference.  Language, even boisterous language, is protected in America.  Actions are not, if they are violent.

No violent action ocurred in Haifa.  There was booing and a few catcalls.  It was embarassing and uncalled for.  But it was not illegal nor violent. To call it, as the federation has done, as "unsporting behavior" and to punish the team and its income from ticket sales, is itself grossly unfair and maybe illegal.

To drag the politics over Rabin's legacy into the sports arena is silly.  Rabin played tennis so maybe there's an opportunity for a Rabin Cup playoff.  But soccer is another matter as is the ability of Israel's media to itself get violent in whipping up animosity to Betar and its supporters.