The disgraceful protest sign "Beitar pure forever" waved by fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club over the weekend in the stands at Teddy Stadium marks another chapter in the ongoing saga of racism and violence in Israel.
For different reasons, this phenomenon generally rears its head in sports arenas, and specifically in soccer stadiums. Amid the feverishness prevalent at games, animal instincts that are usually dormant in the subconscious break out in a rage-filled dance, rising from the depths of the heart and emerging from screaming mouths and written on signs held up high for all to see, in all their wretchedness, pungency and power.
In an irony of fate, it is Beitar's fans who have championed these despicable messages throughout the years. And no, we're not merely talking about the "handful" of infamous fans who sit in the east section, but a phenomenon that spans the fan base and transcends the different sections in the stadium. Some of them are only willing to voice their views behind closed doors, in whispers, while others shamelessly boast "in front of the entire country."
Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Beitar movement and its venerated leader, declared generations ago that the Jewish state, upon its creation, must be democratic and grant equal rights to all its citizens. In this spirit, Jabotinsky explicitly wrote that if the prime minister was Jewish, his deputy should be Arab, and vice versa. With their racist cries, Beitar's fans are not only desecrating basic democratic and Jewish values, but also the legacy of their leader and the movement with which many of them are identified.
However, this doesn't only happen in sports and soccer. These types of sentiments, conveyed by Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid when he declared his intent to never form an obstructionist political bloc with Arab MK "Hanin Zoabi," tells us that Israeli racism and the discriminatory practices that accompany it are alive, breathing and kicking.
Despite attempts to camouflage and minimize its scope, the phenomenon of racism and discrimination has no boundaries. It can be found among people from the Right and the Left, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, new immigrants and those who have been here for generations. It is often nationalistic in nature, and also hides in ethnic or gender-based pretensions.
This phenomenon is a gigantic black stain on Israel. Not only does is it damage its democratic values, but, and perhaps to a greater extent, its Jewish and ethical values. The war against racism and discrimination gains added urgency and pertinence during a week in which International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed throughout the world, and the Ten Commandments, one of the most renowned and influential texts in the world of Judaism and the Torah, are read in synagogues.
The Ten Commandments begin by obligating Jews to remember our exodus from Egypt, "out of the house of slavery," and later obligate us to care not only for our close family but for the servants and the converts living among us. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of the great leaders of Orthodox Judaism, wrote that "human dignity and the rights of man" were independent of genealogy or property ownership, and highlighted God's commandment to remember that we "were foreigners in the Land of Egypt." Hirsch warned that any deprivations of human rights would "open the gate" to the abuse and bullying of others, which were at the root of the evils that Jews faced in Egypt.
Only dogged war against the phenomena of racism and discrimination, and uprooting them from our midst, will enable us to be worthy of the title "a Jewish and democratic state."