A widely mis-printed spelling of Dan Adler’s business partner’s name led us to misattribute the purchase to Maroon 5′s Adam Levine. We thought it was odd, and turns out it is. We regret the error. And it’s too bad to learn that Adler doesn’t intend to use his purchase of the team to make a statement, telling Haaretz: “”I respect every person’s opinion, and we’re not here to educate or change the fans. Each person should live according to his beliefs. I can tell the fans that we don’t have to love each other, but we must respect each other. We’re here for sports and for the community, not for politics.”
It goes without saying that Israel is a divided society. The conflict between Jews and Arabs is evident throughout Israel, complete with discrimination, double-standards, and regular violence.
Yet like in many areas of conflict around the world, sports have been a bridge for multicultural understanding in Israel. One need look no further than Abbas Suan, an Israeli-Arab who became a national hero in 2006 when he scored a last-minute tying goal against Ireland during a World Cup qualifying match.
But even as most Israelis embraced their newfound hero, regardless of his ethnic background, one group remained notably defiant: supporters of the Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem F.C. When Suan’s club team, Bnei Sakhnin, played Beitar Jerusalem in an Israeli Premier League match, Beitar fans welcomed him to the stadium by holding up a large sign with the words, “You do not represent us.” Beitar fans’ racism is not an isolated incident — instead, it’s an established part of their cheering culture. In games against Sakhnin, Beitar fans regularly chant “Death to the Arabs” and “Muhammad is a homosexual.” Supporters booed during a moment of silence for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated after signing the Oslo Accords. Beitar has never had an Arab player. And while the team’s done things like wear jerseys with “Stop Racism” emblazoned on them, those gestures towards reconciliation are generally considered attempts to avoid or minimize league penalties rather than to actually change fan culture.
So why did two liberal Americans just buy this right-wing Israeli soccer club that’s defined by its distate for Arabs? The first is Dan Adler, an investor with a long history in Hollywood whose projects include Causes.com, a site that encourages activism and philanthropy. Adler recently ran in California’s 36th congressional district special election where his candidacy was best known for an ad highlighting his Jewish background and marriage to a Korean woman, with the message “minorities should stick together”:
Adler is also on the board of directors of the Israeli Policy Forum, a left-of-center American Jewish organization working towards a two-state solution.
The second is Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. Levine isn’t notably political — his biggest cause is testicular cancer research, though he did perform at a White House Christmas tree lighting last year — nor is he particularly observantly Jewish. But there’s nothing in his record to suggest he’d be comfortable with a racist fan base. So why did Adler and Levine decide to purchase a team antithetical with values that seem far from their own? Surely they were aware of the team’s culture. Either they turned a blind eye to Beitar’s racism, or they have plans to clean house and reform the team’s culture.
Sensible minds would hope for the latter. Using soccer as a vehicle for social change is not without precedent. Following Abbas Suan’s heroics in 2006, for example, a Jewish ultranationalist fan of Beitar gave an interview in which he declared that he “wouldn’t mind if Abbas married his daughter.” Adler and Levine could, and should, make a quick and strong statement about a new direction for Beitar by trying to sign up Suan when his contract’s up, or signing another Israeli-Arab star to the team. But if they’re going to reckon with their new purchase, it’ll take more than a single gesture and a single player.