A member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family on Monday bought half of Beitar Jerusalem, a top Israeli football team notorious for its anti-Arab fan base, the club said.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan signed a “partnership agreement” with club owner Moshe Hogeg, said a statement from Beitar, calling it a “historic and exciting day”.
The agreement comes after Israel established ties with UAE and Bahrain, only the third and fourth only Arab nations to normalise relations with the Jewish state after Egypt and Jordan.
Al-Nahyan “purchased approximately 50 percent of Beitar in return for investing 300 millions shekels ($92 million) in the club over 10 years,” the statement said.
His son Mohammad will represent Al-Nahyan on the board of directors “on all matters pertaining to the club,” it said.
“We’re marching the club together, all of us, to a new era of coexistence, achievements and fraternity for our club, our community and Israeli sport,” Hogeg said in the statement.
Beitar Jerusalem’s fans have historically been considered anti-Muslim and anti-Arab, with their far-right “La Familia” fan group known for its chants against the Prophet Mohammed.
The first division club is the only Israeli side never to have fielded an Arab player.
But it has been working to change its image in recent years and in 2017 received an award for its fight against racism.
Since they normalised ties, both the UAE and Bahrain have signed a raft of deals with Israel, ranging from tourism to aviation and financial services.
The accords have been condemned by the Palestinians as a “stab in the back”.
Nahyan said he was “thrilled” by the deal, calling it one of the “phenomenal fruits of peace and fraternity between the nations,” he said.
He ended the statement with the club’s trademark slogan: “Yalla Beitar!”
The deal was brokered by Soviet-born, UAE-based businessman Naum Koen.
In a statement, he said the deal showed “how peace between leaders seeps in and is translated into real peace between two nations.”
But not everyone was happy with the deal.
Shai Elimelech, a longtime Beitar fan, found it hard to stomach his team being partly bought by “an Arab.”
“Everyone in the league will make fun of us and call us Arabs,” he told AFP as he filled out a lottery form in a Jerusalem corner shop.
“Money isn’t everything in life.”
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