Israeli soccer official who said he would not sign Arab player resigns

JERUSALEM (JTA) – An official for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team resigned after he said in an interview he would not sign an Arab player to play for the team.

Eli Cohen had been on staff as the team’s professional adviser for only 10 days when he resigned on Wednesday. Some reports said he was fired. It was his fourth stint with the club in recent years.

Cohen said in the controversial interview with the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot that he would not hire an Arab player for the team because “I’m a realist. I experienced firsthand what happened when Muslim players came five years ago, and therefore I would not take a Muslim player into Beitar.”

Five years ago two Chechen players were signed to the team, causing an uproar among fans and players.

Cohen pointed out in the interview that he has had many Arab and Muslim players on teams he previously managed. “Anyone stupid enough to label me a racist because of what I just said can say what he wants,” he said.

Beitar Jerusalem is the only Israeli team to never field a Muslim Arab.

Team chair Eli Ohana last month received an award on behalf of the team from Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin for combating racism during the 2016-2017 season, for the club’s work with youth and the establishment by the team of a forum to deal with incitement and racism.

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