Israeli Soccer Fans Explain Why They Booed Rabin

A spontaneous mass-booing of murdered PM Yitzchak Rabin at a soccer game earlier this week was widely condemned. The fans explain why.

Ezra HaLevi ,

A spontaneous mass-booing of murdered Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin at a soccer game earlier this week has been widely condemned in the Israeli media. The fans have now been given the opportunity to defend themselves.

“I booed,” said Itai Mozes, the owner of a small kiosk in Jerusalem. “I didn’t feel like standing for a moment of silence for Rabin."
At a soccer match between Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa Sunday, organizers announced a moment of silence in memory of Rabin, prior to the game. “We will remember and it and must never be forgotten – November 4th,” the announcer said. “In a few moments time, it will be exactly 12 years since the murder of our prime minister Yitzchak Rabin by an evil, criminal assassin.”

Loud boos broke out in the crowd, with thousands in the Beitar stands taking part. The TV announcer said “I don’t want to say which part of the crowd broke out into calls and boos when the announcer mentioned Yitzchak Rabin, of blessed memory. They should be ashamed. That’s it, they should be ashamed.”

Left-wing MKs were swift in their calls for the Beitar Jerusalem sports team to be penalized for the incident. MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) said he would call for a special Knesset session to discuss the incident. "The fans' shameful behavior must not be ignored, particularly on the anniversary of Rabin's murder," he said.

Channel 10 ran a special segment giving voice to several fans who admitted booing Rabin, asking them why.

“Rabin, Rabin, Rabin, Rabin. Soldiers have been kidnapped – do you care? No – it’s Rabin. Only Rabin,” said an agitated Shlomi Binyamin, a grocer at Jerusalem’s Machaneh Yehuda open-air market.

Moshe Rotem, a high school student standing with a group of friends, said they had all joined in the booing. “He gave weapons to murderers and wanted to give away the country,” he said.

“What we booed was this festival that has continued for twelve years around this day,” said Asher Turjeman. “Enough! One day, two, three! Nobody has a moment of silence for the 1,400 who were murdered since the Oslo Accords [which Rabin initiated], for the 20,000 wounded.”

Journalist Arel Segal protested what he said was an opportunistic way for the left-wing to once again paint the right-wing as guilty of the murder. “They are speaking about an entire public as though they are murderers. The response was idiotic. But it was an expression of protest. Some express their protest in academic discourses and others boo during a soccer game.”

“I booed,” said Itai Mozes, the owner of a small kiosk in Jerusalem. “I didn’t feel like standing for a moment of silence for Rabin."

Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin called for a government moratorium on assistance to the team and the banning of Beitar from first-division games.

The Israeli Football (soccer) Association (IFA) said the team, which is in first place, will indeed be penalized – probably playing a future home game with no fans allowed to attend.

Arcadi Gaydamak, the billionaire philanthropist known for providing refugee housing for northern residents during the Second Lebanon War and for Sderot residents during rocket attacks from Gaza, is the team’s owner. He faced condemnation on the front pages of Israel’s papers for criticizing the decision to politicize the soccer match with a mention of Rabin. “A soccer game is not an appropriate place” for such a commemoration ceremony, he said. The cover of Maariv newspaper the next day showed Gaydamak with the headline "Champion of chutzpa [audacity]."

Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert weighed in on the matter, saying: "I detest these brutish and violent people who, I'm sorry to say, are a sizable sector of the fans. I want to state in the clearest, angriest terms, that this behavior - not of a small group, as some would like to minimize it, but of a large, loud, influential and raging group - was wicked and unbearable.”

Columnist Shlomi Barzel responded to the condemnations of the booing fans, and calls for punishment of the team, saying they endangered the democratic nature of freedom of expression in Israel. “You will not find in this country any real education in democracy, a discussion about limits to freedom of expression, or an attempt to instill tolerance. [MK] Pines is a lawyer by trade…but it is sad to see how much [he] did not internalize anything during the course of [his] education. Despite the fact that the fans' action was repulsive, Israeli law teaches us that boos and calling out Amir's name does not even brush up against the limit on freedom of expression…. The danger to democratic Israeli society that these politicians and the crowd around them pose is no less than what was heard from those who screamed on Sunday night.”

Former "Black Panther" Moroccan immigrant activist leader and Beitar fan Charlie Biton was featured in an Israel Today article alongside those condemning the boos. “The Ashkenazim want to reeducate the ‘Frankim’ [derogatory slang for Sephardic Jews –ed.]. They have instructions on everything: make a festival around the whole Rabin affair. This is an exaggerated festival. For the most righteous people in the world there is no memorial day. With him they make a memorial day for the Hebrew date, the civil date – soon it will be the Muslim and Buddhist dates as well.”

Biton, asked if he considered the booing of the crowd justified, said: “Beitar fans are part of this nation and they have not forgotten that this man [Rabin] shot at the Altalena [pre-state weapons ship belonging to Menachem Begin’s Irgun movement –ed.] and killed Jews. Israel’s self-assured Ashkenazim who came to the protest on Saturday night [at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, to memorialize the slain PM –ed.] think that they make up the whole country and everyone else does not exist.”

Responding to the charges that it was limiting freedom of speech in penalizing Beitar, the IFA responded: "If the fans had not stood for the minute of silence, Beitar would not face disciplinary charges. But the fact that an entire side of the stadium not only dishonored the occasion by whistling and booing, but sang songs in praise of the assassin is a disgrace that should not be tolerated at soccer stadiums. In terms of the public's expectations, the IFA cannot ignore this incident, since it was not just a handful of fans. There may not have been actual incitement to murder at the stadium, but there were calls of support for the killer."