The “derby” confrontation between Tel Aviv's Hapoel and Maccabi soccer teams ended after just 33 minutes Monday when a Hapoel fan physically assaulted Maccabi striker Eran Zehavi. The incident has no precedent in high profile Israeli soccer matches and has political aspects as well.
Zehavi is reviled by Hapoel fans because he used to play in Hapoel until moving to Maccabi three years ago.
The fan tried to punch and kick Zehavi, who defended himself as best he could. Security was unable to stop the fan from reaching Zehavi and took some time before it separated him from the player.
Referee Roi Reinshreiber caused further controversy when he issued Zehavi a red card – although he was clearly only acting in self defense.
Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff told the referee that he wants to end the game, because he refuses to place his players at risk. The referee refused, and Cruyff relented. He escorted Zehavi off the field, as fans hurled objects at them. The game was resumed but stopped again after two minutes when angry Maccabi fans tried to advance toward the Hapoel bench, and were stopped by the security team.
The referee had no choice but to end the game, which stood at 1:1. Maccabi's goal had been scored by Zehavi.
Hapoel – “The Worker” – is a club with socialist roots that date back to the earliest days of modern Zionism. Maccabi, on the other hand, has no such roots. While the teams do not engage in the political game, their supporters are well aware of it and being a Hapoel fan is a part of being a leftist for many people on the left side of the political map.
The Hapoel club's flag is socialist red, and some of its fans were very vocal in the May 1 events of 2012, wearing Che Guevara shirts and chanting “[Rabbi Meir] Kahane is dead,” among other things, as the video shows.
The political left has often pointed to Jerusalem's Betar club, which is associated with the movement that evolved into Likud, as a hooliganistic club with racist fans. This supposedly violent and racist Likud-Betar spirit is traditionally blamed in leftist circles for the incitement that led to the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. The latest event – which took place on the anniversary of the assassination, no less – is therefore quite an embarrassment for leftist apologists.
The Israeli Right has long alleged that the yearly commemorations of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination are used as a platform by hard-left groups to incite against them, with anti-Right sentiment figuring prominently at memorial events.