Jerusalem braces for tense cup match after racist incident

JERUSALEM Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:52pm GMT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hundreds of police officers and stewards will secure an Israeli State Cup match on Tuesday in which Premier League Beitar Jerusalem, supported by a group of vehement anti-Arab fans, host Arab side Maccabi Umm el-Fahm.

A racist element among Beitar fans caused uproar in the Jewish state on Saturday when they held up banners during a Premier League match to protest at owner Arkady Gaydamak's planned recruitment of two Chechen Muslim players.

Beitar faced a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, but a decision had not yet been handed down.

A police spokesman said hundreds of officers, including anti-riot police, would secure the match at the 21,600-seat Teddy Kollek Stadium and were ready to stop any sign of racist behaviour and violence.

On Monday, the club volunteered to play the match against second-division Umm el-Fahm behind closed doors but had a change of heart on Tuesday. Their opponents said they would not show up if a spectator ban was imposed.

One banner on Saturday read "Beitar will always remain pure". Other signs criticised Gaydamak's plan to sign Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev of Russian premier league side Terek Grozny.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement: "The Jewish people have been fatally affected by racism more than any other people in the world - I am certain that our whole nation is shocked by this phenomenon and will never accept it."

An Umm el-Fahm official said the club's players would walk off the pitch if Beitar fans chanted against the Prophet Mohammed.

Beitar are a bastion of Israel's political right-wing and the only leading team in the country never to have signed an Arab player because of fan pressure.

They have the worst disciplinary record in Israel's Premier League. Since 2005, Beitar have faced more than 20 hearings and have received various punishments, including points deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors.

Arab citizens make up some 20 percent of Israel's population of almost eight million. Arab players feature prominently at all other clubs and have long been included in Israel's national team.

(Writing by Ori Lewis)

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