Due to massive public pressure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stopped his government’s controversial plans for far-reaching judicial reforms. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party said he had reached an agreement with Netanyahu to postpone until after the parliamentary recess (April 2-30). However, political opponents do not see the problem as solved and continue to fear that the government’s plan will undermine Israeli democracy.
Hundreds of thousands had protested on the streets in recent weeks against the plans of Justice Minister Yariv Levin from Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party and the right-wing extremist and ultra-religious Ben-Gvir, keeping the whole country in suspense.
On the other hand, tens of thousands of supporters of the plans of the right-wing religious government alliance also demonstrated. Organized and political football fans were also present on both sides and brought the confrontation from the streets into the stadiums.
“Whoever doesn’t jump is a fascist”
Among those protesting against the government’s plans are members of various fan groups from Hapoel Tel Aviv, which has its roots in the labor movement and is best known for its Ligat ha’Al, Israel’s top flight football team. But a few hundred supporters also recently protested at Hapoel’s internationally renowned basketball.
“Anyone who doesn’t jump is a fascist,” chanted the jumping Hapoel fans and sang, alluding to the judicial reform pushed by the right-wing PiS party in Poland a few years ago: “Yariv Levin, we’re not in Poland here.” The Hapoel fans, who are mostly center-left politically, attacked one of their own ranks, because the right-wing conservative Minister of Justice is also a self-confessed Hapoel supporter and regular visitor to the footballers’ home games.
St. Pauli fan scene involved
“Ultras Hapoel 99” (UH99) is the club’s largest ultra group and stands for an anti-fascist and anti-racist attitude. The Hapoel Ultras maintain connections to several ultra groups from clubs from all over Europe that have the same or similar political views, for example at the second division club FC St. Pauli.
There has recently been massive tension between the ultras from Hapoel and the best-known right-wing extremist fan scene “La Familia” from the Beitar Jerusalem club. At the beginning of March, the Hapoel training ground was the target of what the Israeli authorities called a “targeted arson attack”. A subgroup of “La Familia,” the self-proclaimed “keepers of tradition,” posted a video on their Instagram channel showing parts of the youth training center on fire, along with a photo of graffiti that read, “The Holocaust wasn’t the only time that you were burned.”
During the second division game between FC St. Pauli and Greuther Fürth, the St. Pauli Ultras responded with a declaration of solidarity for their Israeli friends. “Solidarity with Hapoel Tel Aviv FC” read a banner in St. Pauli’s southern stand. Other messages from the St. Pauli fans against Beitar Jerusalem and against the Nazis did not remain unanswered. In the duel between Beitar and Hapoel in the Israeli league, Beitar supporters raised a banner against the action in Germany. “Dear FC St. Pauli, if you think you’re strong enough, come and face us with UH99 – F*** Antifa!”
Beitar fans per government
The actions of “La Familia” are not limited to the stadium stands either. Members of the group have sided with pro-government protesters during the protests in Israel and backed controversial judicial reforms. A few hours after the announcement of La Familia’s support for the pro-government demonstrations, videos of young people dressed in black and wearing the words “LF” on T-shirts circulated on social media platforms.
An Arabic-speaking journalist was prevented from doing his work and then attacked by a group of young men, while others stood by with “La Familia” flags. According to media reports, members of “La Familia” also attacked an Arab taxi driver during the pro-government protests in Jerusalem.
history of political violence
It’s not the first time the group has made an appearance outside of football. Members of “La Familia” were already supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when allegations of corruption and calls for his resignation were made in 2020. At that time, “La Familia” shouted racist slogans and attacked journalists, as well as left-wing and Palestinian counter-demonstrators.
The connections of “La Familia” in parts of the political right-wing circles in Israel, in particular with the right-wing Security Minister Ben-Gvir, are well known. As a lawyer, Ben-Gvir represented members of the group in several lawsuits. In the past, he supported chants with violent and racist content at Beitar Jerusalem games – especially against the most well-known Arab club in Israel, Bney Sakhnin.
As security minister, Ben-Gvir is one of the driving forces behind plans to reform the judiciary and, as commander-in-chief of the Israeli security forces, is allegedly responsible for violence against protesters. The ultra-religious politician is also considered an advocate of the far-right “Kach” movement, which was banned in 1994 after its follower Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron. Before Ben-Gvir became a minister in Netanyahu’s government, a photo of Goldstein graced the wall in Ben-Gvir’s office.
Despite the government’s postponement of the vote on judicial reform, protests continue in the streets. Israel is currently a divided country. There is no end in sight to the protests and the clashes between opponents and supporters. The longer the conflict drags on, the greater the role organized football fans play in the political violence on the streets of Israel.
Adapted from the English by David Vorholt.