Blog Post

Thoughts on MLK Day

Is the public ritual of racial hints followed by an apology indicative of progress toward a more tolerant society? Or does it merely reveal America's hypocrisy? I am not sure. But look at it differently: an atmosphere where public figures need to apologize for sounding like bigots is preferable to one where they have to apologize for not being racist.

Here is an example from my hometown. Beitar Jerusalem is one of the most popular teams in Israeli soccer, the country's most popular sport. It has a large following and boasts celebrity fans such as Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's former and current prime ministers. The team is also famous for its racist ideology. The fans' songs are replete with curses against Palestinians and the Muslim prophet; “Death to the Arabs” is a particular favorite. While such chanting is not unusual in Israeli stadiums, Beitar stands out as the only major team in Israeli soccer that never had an Arab player. Muslims too are unwelcome. The management once made the mistake of recruiting a Ghanaian player who happened to be Muslim. The Beitar fans booed whenever he touched the ball, and within a few weeks he left, never to return.

Recently this status quo seemed to be threatened, when Aviram Baruchyan, the team’s captain and the darling of the fans, participated in an anti-violence conference and announced he would welcome an Arab player as a teammate.

Well, the uproar was such that it took Baruchyan 24 hours to issue a public apology “for hurting the feelings of the fans.”

So maybe something could be said for multiculturalism and political correctness after all.

Yigal Bronner's picture
Yigal Bronner is an Associate Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in Sanskrit poetry and poetics. He is the author of several books including Self-Surrender, Peace, Compassion, and The Mission of the Goose: Poems and Prayers from South India (NYU Press, 2009, co-authored with David Shulman) and of Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration, Columbia U Press, 2010). Bronner grew up in Israel and spent years struggling against Israeli occupation and for peace. He has authored numerous articles and op-eds on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.