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Likud Support, Betar Soccer Fans

12 January 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

A month and a half ago the Likud was a definite winner in the 2003 elections.  Most believe they will have a reduced victory of 30 Knesset seats as opposed to the 40 they expected in November.  Some Labor politicians are even entertaining thoughts of an election victory, although they admit the chances are slim.

No doubt with all the scandals the Likud is on the ropes but the party faithful are rallying to action, especially after Judge Heshin pulled the plug on Prime Minister Sharon’s speech Thursday night.  They are presenting the blackout as a left wing political, media and judiciary conspiracy to defeat the beloved party.

Among the Likud faithful, support for the party is akin to support for the Betar Jerusalem soccer club.  No matter how poorly the team does they have unswerving support from their fans.  Betar is the youth movement and sports organization associated with the historic Revisionists of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Herut of Menachem Begin before they merged with the Liberals and formed the Likud in 1965.

Herut were the ‘down and outers’ of right wing ideologues and lower class eastern Sephardi immigrants who formed the official and often vicious opposition to David Ben Gurion and the Labor governments throughout much of the 1950’s and 60’s.  The Betar fans felt the same way about any Labor supported team and the entire soccer league. 

Most memorable in this connection was the 1996 elections when all went to bed expecting Shimon Peres to defeat Benyamin Netanyahu.  By midnight the Likud headquarters were virtually empty except for a few teenagers and young adults who refused to give up and spent the night sleeping on assembled chairs and the floor.  By early next morning fortune shone on Netanyahu but barely anyone was around to interview.  Finally reporters woke up a 16 year old supporter to inform him of the good news.  “Yala Betar,” he responded as he shook the sleep from his eyes.  “Let’s go Betar,” he could never let his team down, especially when facing an unpleasant outcome.

Sort of like baseball’s old Brooklyn Dodgers getting three guys stuck on second base.  “What a bunch of bums,” but they were your bums and you loved them sticking with them through thick and thin, while equally hating those upscale Giants who seemed to have everything going in their favor.  Brooklyn fans struggled as a blue collar, lower and lower middle class in general.  They fully identified with their club.

In Israel politics and sports are mixed, especially in the Likud.  The club’s faithful have awoken and will take on the entire league and anyone else who will get in the way.  No one will move over to Labor, that would be considered the great betrayal, although the non-diehards may shift support to other parties.

With 16 days left until election day, the more accusations made against the party the more the Betarniks will dig in.  The scandal issue might just boomerang against the supposed plots of the ‘left wing establishment’ and the Betar fans will sing once again “Arik, King of Israel”.