UAE royal family member buys half of controversial Israeli football club

AFP , Monday 7 Dec 2020

Beitar Jerusalem soccer club never hired an Arab player

A member of Abu Dhabi's royal family on Monday bought half of Beitar Jerusalem, a top Israeli football team notorious for its anti-Arab fan base, the club said.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan signed a "partnership agreement" with club owner Moshe Hogeg, said a statement from Beitar, calling it a "historic and exciting day".

The agreement comes after Israel established ties with UAE and Bahrain, only the third and fourth Arab nations to normalise relations with the Jewish state, after its neighbours Egypt and Jordan.

According to the statement, Al-Nahyan "purchased approximately 50 percent of Beitar in return for investing 300 millions shekels ($92 million, 76 million euros) in the club over 10 years."

In addition, Nahyan's son Mohammad will be part of the club's new board of directors, "who will represent (his father) on all matters pertaining to the club," the statement said.

"We're marching the club together, all of us, to a new era of coexistence, achievements and fraternity for our club, our community and Israeli sport," Hogeg said in the statement.

Beitar Jerusalem's fans have historically been considered anti-Muslim and anti-Arab, with their far-right "La Familia" fan group known for songs against the Prophet Mohammed.

The first division club is the only Israeli side never to have fielded an Arab player, but has been working to change its image in recent years, and in 2017 received an award for its fight against racism.

Since normalising ties, both the UAE and Bahrain have signed a raft of deals with Israel, ranging from tourism to aviation and financial services.

The accords have been condemned by the Palestinians as they break with years of Arab League policy which has held that there should be no relations with Israel until it makes peace with the Palestinians.

Quoted by the Beitar statement, Nahyan said he was "thrilled" to be a part-owner in a club of one of the world's holiest cities, and was "happy to take part" in the "changes" taking place in the club.

"We can see before our eyes the phenomenal fruits of peace and fraternity between the nations, and are forging a new path in bringing people from the nations together," he said.

He ended the statement with the club's trademark slogan: "Yalla Beitar!"

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