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‘They teach you to harm people who are different from you’: Former Israeli racist speaks out

Ben Lynfield
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Published: 28 April 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

A former member La Familia exposes how the racist fans of Jerusalem Beitar football club use violence to support the government’s hard-Right agenda.

For David Mizrahi, who grew up amid despair and destitution near Teddy football stadium in Jerusalem, addressing a crowd of 140,000 anti-government demonstrators in Tel Aviv last Saturday night capped a long journey.

Once he was a member of La Familia, the notoriously violent and racist group of football fans of the Beitar Jerusalem team. But now he is a progressive voice against the hard-Right coalition and its efforts to concentrate greater powers in its own hands.

Sharing his reflections on the poverty and lack of belonging that made him gravitate to La Familia, Mizrahi seemed to be trying to inject a social justice component into the conspicuously middle-class protest movement. 

“How is it that in a country that is so rich, there are so many poor people and children forced to defer their dreams?” asked Mizrahi, who left La Familia eight years ago and has since spent much of his time addressing youth groups with an anti-racism message.

His crusade is something sorely needed as La Familia casts its dark shadow on the current upheaval over the government’s judicial overhaul plan. On March 27, the group called on its members to come out and protest on behalf of the government to counter a massive rally by opponents of the attempted weakening of the Supreme Court. “We won’t give up on the country,” La Familia said in a social media post.

A series of violent episodes ensued, including a near-lynching of an Arab taxi driver, the wounding of a Channel 13 journalist and violence against protesters in Tel Aviv. Anti-government protesters attribute all of these attacks to La Familia.

"They come with bats and knives, they haven’t used the knives yet, but they throw rocks and smash things. They are incredibly brutal."

Josh Drill, spokesman for protest organisers

“They come with bats and knives, they haven’t used the knives yet, but they throw rocks and smash things. They are incredibly brutal,” said Josh Drill, a spokesman for the coalition of groups organising the protests which have filled Israeli streets for more than three months in an effort to block the power grab.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates say “judicial reform” is necessary because the Supreme Court has assumed too much power and does not reflect the will of the people. Mizrahi, like many others, said the real reason is that Netanyahu wants to cancel corruption proceedings against him. The Prime Minister denies any wrongdoing.

But Netanyahu’s ally, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the ultranationalist Jewish Power party, defended members of La Familia during a recent interview with Channel 13, claiming “there are Israel Defense Force officers and people with values” in the organisation.

David Mizrahi
David Mizrahi

Mizrahi, 34, is not surprised by La Familia’s street violence. He alleged in an interview with The Jewish Independent Media that violence is the raison d’etre of the group, called for it to be outlawed as a terrorist organisation and stressed that Ben-Gvir has longstanding ties with La Familia.

“They teach you to harm people who are different from you,” Mizrahi said. He recalled attacking Arabs and fans of opposing teams, throwing smoke bombs and virulently hating “leftists”.

After it was founded in 2005, La Familia’s violence was mostly aimed at fans of competing teams, a practice it maintained over the years.

The group’s racism has always been blatant and violent. When Beitar’s owners signed two Muslim players in 2013, La Familia unfurled a huge banner in its section of the stadium proclaiming: “Beitar Jerusalem will be pure forever”. To Arabs, the fan club had a special song: “We will burn down your village”.

In 2017, La Familia member Omer Golan was sentenced to 10 years in prison for crashing a hammer down on the head of a fan of the Hapoel Tel Aviv team. In recent years the group has increasingly mixed football with politics, joining Ben-Gvir in 2018 in protests to support Elor Azaria, a soldier who shot and killed an immobilised Palestinian assailant in Hebron.

"They are violent in order to be part of the group, but also out of ideology, hatred and fear. politicians continue to sow this hatred in people who can serve them."

David Mizrahi

“They are violent in order to be part of the group, to have a feeling of belonging, but also out of ideology, hatred and fear. And politicians continue to sow this hatred in people who can serve them,” Mizrahi said.

Mizrahi said he left La Familia after introspection caused by financial distress, the break-up of his family, and working alongside Palestinians at a factory in the Jordan Valley. “I became friendly with them and began to see the other side,” he said.

Speaking of La Familia’s current motivation to play a role, Mizrahi said: “They come of their own accord [to protests] but they view Ben-Gvir as a leader.

“Their function is to terrorise. They are Ben-Gvir’s soldiers,” he said.

Ben-Gvir has much in common with the soccer hooligans. He campaigned on a vow to expel “disloyal” Arab citizens and has venerated Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians at mosque prayers in 1994. His ties with La Familia are longstanding, according to Mizrahi.

He recalled Ben-Gvir coming to meet La Familia members at Beitar’s playing field and said it was he who helped transform it from a football club into an extreme right-wing political group. As a lawyer specialising in defending extremists charged with hate crimes and violence, Ben-Gvir represented dozens of La Familia members, according to Channel 13. Ben-Gvir’s spokesman did not respond to queries for this article.

As a lawyer specialising in defending extremists charged with hate crimes, Ben-Gvir represented dozens of La Familia members, according to Channel 13.

Knesset member Meirav Cohen, from the opposition Yesh Atid party, referring to La Familia and Lehava, a like-minded group that set fire to a Jewish-Arab bilingual school in Jerusalem, wrote on Facebook after the March 27 violence: “Every day that these organisations operate freely, and with the support of some ministers in the government, poses a tangible danger to the well being of the public.”

In remarks quoted by the N12 website, Cohen called for La Familia to be banned, terming it a “violent and extremist organisation whose goal is to create chaos and to terrorise. We are speaking of phalangists and gangsters instructed by the minister of national failure, Ben-Gvir.”  

Both Mizrahi and Brill said statements such as the one by Likud legislator Tali Gottlieb, last Saturday, describing left-wingers as “traitors”, create a climate for violence. “That can lead to murder,” Mizrahi said.

Drill said: “The pro-democracy protesters feel a need for protection from La Familia and are organising for this.”

But Mizrahi doubts Netanyahu’s coalition will take any steps to stop La Familia. “The current government will not deal with La Familia because it wants there to be a feeling of fear among the opposition.”


READ MORE Football doco paints disturbing portrait of Israeli fan racism (The Jewish Independent)

Photo: Members of La Familia arrive to confront supporters of the purchase during the club's training session in Jerusalem on December 11, 2020, after a member of Abu Dhabi's royal family bought half of Beitar (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

About the author

Ben Lynfield

Ben Lynfield covered Israeli and Palestinian politics for The Independent and served as Middle Eastern affairs correspondent at the Jerusalem Post. He writes for publications in the region and has contributed to the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy and the New Statesman.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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