The Israeli liberals, skeptical of the country’s normalization agreements, nonetheless found reason to cheer the striking turn of the new alliance.
“The sale of Beitar to the Arabs is the clearest sign that God exists,” wrote Noa Landau, the diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, on Twitter.
However, many Arab commentators scoffed.
Saied Hasnen, a sports radio host, called the deal “shameful”. He said he opposed any Arab normalization of Israel, but particularly deplored the sheikh’s decision to do business with Beitar, calling the team and its supporters “a sinful and filthy swamp of racists who hate Arabs – the worst people in the world Society”.
Khalid Dokhi, general manager of Bnei Sakhnin, Israel’s most successful Arab association, expressed mixed feelings. “If it leads to a change in the racist culture, that would be an advantage,” said Dokhi, whose team plays in an Arab city. “But if not, it’s a waste of money.”
Sheikh Hamad’s investment seems like a giant leap forward in a long and often stormy battle of multiple team owners to tame Beitar Jerusalem’s far-right fan base.
While other clubs have long used Jewish and Arab players to regularly play together for the Israeli national soccer team, Beitar’s far-right support group La Familia has sometimes been violently upset against such a move. The club has been regularly fined and stadium bans for violent behavior and racist chanting.
A Nigerian Muslim who joined the team in 2004 was harassed regularly and fired after less than a year. In 2005, La Familia protested reports that Beitar Abbas could sign Suan, an Israeli Arab man who starred for Bnei Sakhnin. When he scored an important goal for Israel in a World Cup qualifier against Ireland, Beitar supporters held up a banner that read: “Abbas Suan, you are not representing us.”