Players from Bnei Ichalel Rehovot pose in Ashdod.
NIF’s campaign against racism in Israeli soccer kicked off Action Week, marked in 42 countries across Europe, by arranging several unique events last month. NIF brought the teenage boys of Bnei Ichalel Rehovot, Israel’s first soccer club founded by Israel’s Ethiopian immigrant community, to Ashdod.
The Bnei Ichalel players came onto the pitch before the Premier League match between MS Ashdod and Hapoel Be’er Sheva. The boys gathered with the players, played an exhibition match at half time, and met MS Ashdod owner Jackie Ben Zaken, the owner of MS Ashdod who himself comes from a North African immigrant family. “I was once in your place,” Ben Zaken said, “and look where I am now.”
The events were held in partnership with the Israel Football Association and with support from the Israeli government’s Sports Administration and Israel Police.
NIF concluded FARE Action Week activities with a unique "Hyde Park" event before the Premier League game between Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Haifa. Kick It Out Israel set up a speaking area near Netanya's stadium modeled on Speakers Corner at London's Hyde Park. Fans, including local celebrities, were invited to make brief speeches condemning racism and violence in soccer.
Yardena Shaarabi, 68, gave an emotional speech about her son Yoni, a lifelong Netanya fan who was killed in the second Lebanon War in 2006. She said, "I am wearing the scarf and Maccabi shirt that Yoni wore to every game. He was a devoted fan but adamantly opposed violence in the stands and always encouraged only fair play."
She added, telling an audience of hundreds, I call on you all to realize Yoni's dream and work for football which is clean, fair and free of racism and violence.