2 Muslim Chechens join Beitar Jerusalem

An Israeli Premier League club which has an unofficial tradition

of not signing Arab or Muslim players welcomed two Muslim-Chechen

footballers on Wednesday amid rising tensions from its own

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 on 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 on 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 on Sunday against Ironi Ramat

HaSharon.