2 Muslim Chechens join Beitar Jerusalem

An Israeli soccer club with an unofficial tradition of not

signing Arab or Muslim players welcomed two Muslim-Chechen members

Wednesday amid rising tensions from its fans.

Beitar Jerusalem has fans who are known for being hostile to

Muslims and Arabs and who have opposed the Chechens’ arrival.

At a league game Saturday, some chanted anti-Muslim slogans and

unfurled a sign protesting the arrival of Zaur Sadayev and Gabriel

Kadiev. Three fans were arrested for the behavior, which drew

widespread condemnation from ranks as senior as Israel’s

president.

At a news conference shortly after their arrival, Sadayev and

Kadiev seemed unfazed by the fans’ behavior as they donned their

yellow and black Beitar jerseys.

”I’m happy I came here,” said Sadayev, a 23-year-old forward

signed from FC Terek Grozny. ”And I will please the fans with my

game.”

Kadiev, a 19-year-old defender from the same team, said he was

”not afraid” of playing in front of Beitar fans.

Beitar fans have been punished in the past for displays similar

to Saturday’s, and police beefed up security at a match Tuesday,

when Beitar played a team from the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm. At

first, police decreed an empty stadium but then reneged.

Hundreds of police, some on horseback, patrolled inside and

outside the stadium and said they would arrest anyone displaying

racist behavior. No major incidents were reported, and 12 fans from

both sides were banned from the game.

Highlighting the gravity of the fans’ behavior, Jerusalem Mayor

Nir Barkat attended Wednesday’s news conference, seated near the

two Chechen players. He denounced violence and racism.

Beitar coach Eli Cohen acknowledged the fans’ rowdiness, but

hoped the Chechens’ arrival might chart a new course for the

team.

”I know there will be growing pains but I believe that this

club will embark on a new journey and will change its image,” he

said.

Beitar’s next game is Sunday against Ironi Ramat HaSharon.