The passion of soccer fans is legendary.
In Israel, none are more dedicated than fans of Beitar Jerusalem and, within the black-and-gold faithful, the supporters group known as La Familia.
The devotion of La Familia knows no bounds — almost.
In March 2013, when Zaur Sadaev of Beitar scored a crucial goal in front of the home fans, hundreds stormed out in protest because Sadaev is Muslim.
Beitar’s only previous Muslim player, a Nigerian, left in 2005 after a half-season. The club has never signed an Arab. La Familia chants with pride that Beitar is “the most racist club in the country.”
Journalist and filmmaker Maya Zinshtein tells this story in “Forever Pure,” an 85-minute documentary to be screened four times during the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Zinshtein was granted access to the team’s owner, management and players and interviewed its fans.
When the team’s Russian-Israeli owner signed two Muslims from Chechnya (one being Sadaev) in January 2013, La Familia erupted.
Angry fans shook fences and screamed epithets outside the Chechens’ first practice session. In the course of a turmoil-filled season, La Familia displayed a banner in Hebrew that read, “Beitar, pure forever.” The team’s offices were torched, destroying decades of memorabilia.
The club was founded in 1936 as part of the Beitar youth movement. Over the years, Beitar won several league and cup titles, but financial instability and coaching changes saw the team bounce in and out of the top division.
Beitar’s fan base is drawn from the working classes, particularly the Mizrahi community. The club is also popular with politicians, notably from the political right.
La Familia earned an ugly reputation by abusing Arab, Muslim and black players on other teams, ignoring team management’s efforts to rein in its behavior.
Since “Forever Pure” was shot, the Chechen players have left, and the club has changed ownership. La Familia remains.