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Beitar Jerusalem: UAE royal set to buy Israeli football club known for racist fans

Beitar’s owner travels to Dubai to seal deal with Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan worth around $100m
Beitar Jerusalem's Israeli defender Tal Benesh (L) kicks the ball next to Saint-Etienne's Moroccan forward Oussama Tannane (R) during the UEFA Europa League, 25 August 2016 (AFP)

Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, is set to buy an almost 50 percent stake in Beitar Jerusalem, an Israeli football club whose fans are known to chant anti-Arab slogans.

Beitar's owner Moshe Hogeg travelled to Dubai on Thursday along with the club’s CEO Moni Brosh and chairman Eli Ohana.

The deal is estimated at around £75m ($100m) and is being brokered by Naum Koen, a Ukrainian-born Israeli businessman based in the United Arab Emirates. 

The first reports of a potential deal appeared in September, just days before the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed an agreement normalising ties in Washington.

Hogeg told Hebrew media on Thursday that he is hoping to “close matters”.

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“It looks good and is progressing, and my goals and [Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan's] goals are mutual. Let’s not rush it, we will arrive there and hold negotiations,” Hogeg said.

"We need to understand that this will not come at the price of the club, making sure this will be good for it for a long time, for the club’s infrastructure.”

Hogeg said he hopes that final agreement will be signed by the end of the year.

If a deal is made, it would be one of the most signifanct and prominent signed between Iraeli and Emirati parties since the US-brokered normalisation deal.

Tech, security and tourism agreements are also being inked between the two countries, who before September had no official relations but had become close in recent years.

Beitar Jerusalem is the only club in the Israeli Premier League to not have any players in its history from the Palestinian community in Israel, which makes up 20 percent of the country's population.

The club has faced several penalties for its fans chanting racist slogans like "Death to Arabs" and its opposition to bringing Palestinian citizens of Israel into the team. 

Its hardcore fan base, known as La Familia, is notoriously abusive towards opposing players, routinely taunting them with racist and anti-Arab chants. One chant goes: "Here we are, the most racist team in the country."

Fans of the club have been seen flying giant banners at their home ground depicting a man carrying a gun and emblazoned with the words "WAR!" and "La Familia".

It was reported that La Familia was involved in attacking protesters who had assembled in Tel Aviv in July calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down over corruption charges. Beitar is closely aligned to Netanyahu and his Likud party. 

Despite their notorious racism against Arabs and Muslims, Beitar fans seem in favour of the deal with the Abu Dhabi royal, with the promise of riches catching their eye.

According to Sports Walla, Beitar's fans have seen 12 years of bad performances and results, and without a genuine change in the club's management and financial structure the team's future will be dire.

A banner set up outside Beitar Jersualem's stadium saying: "Hamad Bin Khalifa, you are welcome in Jerusalem" (Social media)
A banner set up outside Beitar Jersualem's stadium saying: "Hamad Bin Khalifa, you are welcome in Jerusalem" (Social media)

Ayman Odeh, an MP representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, called on YouTube in October to remove a "racist" song insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which was posted and sung by Beitar fans. 

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In 2013, the club had its offices torched after it decided to sign two Muslim Chechen players, Gabriel Kadiev and Zaur Sadayev, from the Russian league. 

Fans were so incensed by the signing of Kadiev and Sadayev that some walked out of a game, despite one of the Chechens scoring. 

Emirati royals have invested their vast funds in several sports and teams around the world. Most famously Manchester City, an English Premier League club that has had historic success after billions of pounds were poured in by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

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