Notorious for the anti-Arab racism of some of its fans, Israeli soccer club explores Emirati investment

A glass cabinet in the lobby of Moshe Hogeg’s office is filled with action hero figures. The high-tech executive explained to CNN’s Oren Liebermann why Batman was his favorite: “He doesn’t really have superpowers whatsoever but it makes you feel like maybe you can do big things also.”

Liebermann reminded him that the Punisher was also humane but evil. “That’s his superpower. I know a few lawyers that have this power also,” joked Hogeg.

The entrepreneur might need to deploy a few superpowers of his own for his next project as he explores bringing in a partner from the United Arab Emirates to invest in Beitar Jerusalem, a leading Israeli football club that Hogeg bought just over two years ago.

The club finished third in the Israeli Premier League last season, but off the pitch has to deal with a small but vocal group of ultra fans known as ‘La Familia,’ who are proud of the fact that Beitar has never signed an Arab player.

That dynamic was changed somewhat last season with the arrival of Ali Mohamed, a Christian from Niger. However, because his name sounds Muslim, some Beitar fans wanted to rename him.

He played 34 games for Beitar and set up an unforgettable moment for the club owner when he saw an eight-year-old boy in the stadium with a Beitar shirt and Mohamed on his back.

“That was beautiful for me,” Hogeg recalled. “I called his father and he was laughing and he says: ‘Listen the kid does not know all of those things right. The kid just loves football and he loves Ali Mohamed because he is a great player.’ That was a beautiful moment for me. A moment of victory.”

READ: Football club owner ready to sue ‘racist’ fans

‘New spirit of peace’

The interest in Beitar from the UAE provides an unexpected opportunity in Hogeg’s efforts to reinvent the Israeli team. The club announced the possibility of a large investment and that Hogeg would fly to the UAE for negotiations.

“We are talking about the opportunity to make Beitar Jerusalem a dominant and powerful club in Israel and the world that will be in addition to football, a real symbol of the new spirit of peace that is blowing in the Middle East. It fits the saying ‘love your neighbors as you love yourself.'”

Hogeg will not reveal the identity of the potential UAE investor, who he says he has talked to on the phone and on Zoom.

The motivation behind a potential partnership is clear. “They specifically wanted Beitar,” states Hogeg. “Jerusalem is in the Holy Land, it is the capital.

“It is the holiest place in the world, not only for Jewish [people] but also for Muslims and Christians and he heard about the club fighting racism and we want to be part of that.”

However, La Familia’s reaction on Facebook to news of the potential UAE investment was altogether less positive: “Money will blind the smart people and slant the sayings of the wise. We want to remind everyone that Jerusalem is the city holy to the Jews and we are the only team in the world that has the holy symbol of our nation on our shirt.”

READ: Taking a knee reached a point of ‘good PR,’ says leading soccer director

Hogeg counters that the September Peace Treaty signing between Israel, UAE and Bahrain will give perfect legitimacy to his effort. In fact, an alliance with an Arab partner is necessary to advance the peace process.

“In the end, when there is peace between countries you don’t feel it unless there is a connection between the people,” Hogeg said.

“Football is the people and when you have a partnership between the nations, between the Jewish guy from Israel named Moshe and an Arab guy from the UAE named I don’t know what, and we are cheering for the same team, we are building this community, we are giving good, we are putting money, all we want is to see people having fun.

“Fathers and children having fun. When you score a goal everyone scores goals together.”

What remains to be seen is whether an investment deal can be fashioned which a month ago may have been a dream in the world of superheroes.