In Israel, your politics determine everything — where you sit in synagogue, what falafel stand you frequent, and especially what football (soccer) team you support. Israeli football culture, stemming from longstanding traditions of European football hooliganism and city pride, takes on a new level in a country whose geographical area is small but rich in human capital.
FOOTBALL IN ISRAEL
Organized football in Eretz Yisrael began during the British Mandate of Palestine and consisted of separate British and Jewish clubs as early as 1906, when Israel’s oldest team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, was formed as a “social group.”
FOOTBALL POLITICS & HOOLIGANISM
Throughout its development, Israeli football culture was a natural offshoot of the widespread English movement that started at about the same time that Israeli football was formally organized into a sport. Football fanatics whose team loyalties go beyond simple fan allegiances — sometimes called “ultras” — have also become a niche part of Israeli political culture: football hooliganism. Part of an English tradition started at the beginning of the 20th century and solidified from the 1960s and 1970s, football hooligans exploit city pride (and the various associations that go alone with them, including religion and socio-economic class) to supercharge the natural adrenaline of football matches. For many football supporters, football matches are more than spectator sport events, they are an exhibition of national pride and often the catalyst to violent confrontations between rival teams. And Israeli teams are no exception.
HAPOEL TEL AVIV & ULTRAS HAPOEL
Hapoel (“Labor”) Tel Aviv has long been the standard-bearer of the Israeli left-wing political movement. Explicitly connected to Israel’s Labor Party (Hapoel) since its inception, the club was the last to cut formal ties with political affiliations, including the Histadrut trade union. Fans (“ultras Hapoel”) display red banners illustrated with the socialist motto “Workers of the world, unite!” and the face of international mass murderer and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
BEITAR JERUSALEM & LA FAMILIA
The familiar yellow and black of La Familia — Israel’s only officially recognized hooligan firm, begun in 2005 and supporting Premier League team Beitar Jerusalem from the eastern section of Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium — has roots in the Beitar political movement of the charismatic Revisionist-Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Among the most zealous of Israeli football clubs, Beitar’s fans have often been penalized with docked points, closed matches and other disciplinary actions due to riots, the use of fireworks and anti-Arab chants from fans.
From Beitar to Hapoel, two of Israel’s most colorful football teams, and every Israeli club in between, supporters have managed to turn sport into lifestyle. For Israelis of every ethnicity and voting record, there exists a team of supporters, a wide spectrum of political affiliations and a variety of scarves (tip: check out the northeast corner of Machaneh Yehudah for the cheapest).