Beitar Jerusalem — which has won six league championships and seven cup titles in its 77-year history — is one of the powerhouses of Israeli soccer and has a legendary following that includes several Israeli prime ministers.
The team has historically been strongly aligned with Israel's nationalist right wing and its name, Beitar, comes from the Zionist youth movement that is linked to the ruling Likud Party.
The team and its fans have since been a steady source of support for Likud politics and a string of politicians have served as team chairman. Prime ministers with Likud roots — from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert to Netanyahu — have called themselves fans and made pilgrimages to the club's Teddy Stadium.
But as the Likud Party has become mainstream after years in government, many of Beitar's die-hard fans have gone more extreme.
Beitar's battles are similar to those European clubs have had with their fans. But while in Europe the racism is mostly directed toward blacks and immigrants, in Israel it is toward Arabs and Muslims.
"La Familia" was created in 2005, and it quickly became the team's loudest and most visible supporters. The fans routinely wave huge flags of the outlawed racist Kach party and chant "death to Arabs" and other racist slogans toward Arab players.
The club has been penalized numerous times for the behavior that has included booing during a moment of silence for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, singing songs deriding Islam's Prophet Muhammad and physically assaulting Arab maintenance workers in stadiums.
Their behavior has blossomed into a national embarrassment and drawn a cascade of condemnations from Israel's president, Jerusalem's mayor and other officials. Olmert recently said he would no longer attend games because of them.
For years, the club's Russian-Israeli owner Arkady Gaydamak refrained from intervening. In fact, he backed the group financially, glowed in their adoration and refused to sign an Arab player for fear of angering them.
After a failed attempt to run for Jerusalem mayor, Gaydamak fled the country in 2008 amid financial scandals in Israel and Europe. Since then, he has drastically cut funding to the team and tried to sell it several times.
Shlomi Barzel, the sports editor of Haaretz newspaper and a lifelong Beitar fan, said the signing of the Chechens came "out of the blue" and was likely an effort by Gaydamak to pursue his business interests in Chechnya.
Ironically, though, he said the move could mark a historic shift in the relationship between the team and its wayward fan base, exposing them as a paper tiger and ushering in a new era as the team attempts to become a mainstay in the European ranks.
"This 'La Familia' gang of bigots tried to flex their muscles and thought they were going to scare someone," he said. "The players and the vast majority of fans rejected them and the club didn't bend. This has turned them into even more outcasts than they were before."
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