The political involvement of fan organizations around the world

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Detention of La Familia protesters

(Photo: Israel Police spokeswoman)

La Familia’s tumultuous transition from a force operating in the sports arena to what appears in the news releases has taken place sharply recently. The Betar Jerusalem fans’ organization has become one of the hot topics in the big demonstrations that take place in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg even appealed to Defense Minister Bnei Gantz to declare it a terrorist organization. “We see a systematic pattern of action based on sowing terror through violence,” she claimed.

Organization of the La Familia organization in the station complex in JerusalemOrganization of the La Familia organization in the station complex in Jerusalem

Demonstrators of La Familia in the station compound in Jerusalem

There is no doubt about it: if until the corona crisis “La Familia” was considered the body responsible for multiple violent and racist incidents in the stands of Betar Jerusalem, which also affects club decision-making, protest and especially the counter-movement branded it as a social force in the struggle, from the extreme right of the political map. On Thursday night, for example, about a hundred supporters of the organization’s operatives gathered at the station compound in Jerusalem, some rioted, attacked media people and tried to reach Balfour to confront the protesters against the prime minister.

What led to this? Sources in the organization claimed that the “disgrace of the lamp symbol” was responsible for them taking to the streets, after a bare-chested protester climbed the lamp statue near the Knesset about a week and a half ago. Bella Familia also refers to the menorah as the club’s symbol, and increased their activities afterwards.

(The picture that upset La Familia. Photo: EPA, Shalom Shalom)

Also in a demonstration that took place in front of the home of the Minister of Internal Security, Amir Ohana, it was alleged that fans were involved in attacking the demonstrators, but this time the suspects were identified with the fanatics organization of Maccabi Tel Aviv fans.

In Israel, this is a relatively new phenomenon: a powerful fan organization that harnesses its power for active and prominent participation in social / political struggle. Outside of Israel, on the other hand, Ultras organizations have long since discovered the possibility of making an impact outside the sports field and have carved their name in history. They do so in a variety of ways: some more legitimate and others less so; Some fans are leading a protest against the government, some are mobilizing for it; Some are more violent and some less so. This is how it looks in the world.

Organization of La Familia members in the station compound

Violent activity of the Ultras organizations is first attributed to those of the South American groups, mainly in Brazil and Argentina, but the source of the first significant political affiliation between the organization and the party is in Italy. The word “ultras” also comes from Italian – political support groups in the late 1960s in the country, so politics went hand in hand with sports for the purposes of association and expression of opinion.

Even today Italy is one of the most prominent countries where the Ultras combine forces with political organizations. Just last month, demonstrations against various government policies in the Corona crisis took place in various cities in Italy, with some becoming violent clashes with security forces. The organizers belonged to the far-right movement “Breakthrough Nouveau” along with the ultras of several groups from across the country.

(The “burglary nouveau” in the riot in Italy)

Ultras are often sent by extremist political elements, with whom they cooperate, to inflict demonstrations and protests on the other side of the political map. This, for example, happened in eastern Ukraine six years ago, when several hundred people, mostly in the city of Kharkov, demonstrated against government policy. Ultras members of Dnipro and Metalist arrived at the square where the demonstration took place and surprised the protesters with violence. Several dozen people were injured, including police officers.

There are cases where ultrasound groups become one of the symbols of the struggle. Bashiktash’s Ultras’ Chershi organization is considered the force that led the demonstrations against the Turkish government and Erdogan in 2013, which included violent and painful clashes with the police. The members of “Chershi” have always been considered opponents of the regime, like most Shikatash fans. One of the most famous fans, the Turkish writer Asbar Yagmorderli, once said: “I am not in opposition because I am a fan of Shiktash, but a fan of Shiktash because I am in opposition.”

God"Chershi" Of Besiktas led demonstrations against ErdoganGod"Chershi" Of Besiktas led demonstrations against Erdogan

Besiktas’ “cherry” led demonstrations against Erdogan

(Photo: AP)

As one of the largest ultras organizations in the world (over three million followers on the organization’s Twitter account), members of “Chershi” opposed the demolition of Gazi Park, one of the green lungs of central Istanbul, many of whom came armed for clashes with police forces. Dozens of them stood trial and the Ultras were called “terrorist organizations” by some politicians. Sounds familiar to you? The Democratic People’s Party, on the other hand, provided the detainees with legal support.

In Egypt, too, the Ultras organizations were the prominent voice in the 2011 revolution. Two such organizations, Al-Ahlawi’s Al-Ahlawi and Zamalek’s “White Knights,” marched together to Tahrir Square. They became one of the main forces in protest against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

The ultras were the prominent voice in Egypt during the 2011 revolutionThe ultras were the prominent voice in Egypt during the 2011 revolution

The Ultras were the prominent voice in Egypt during the 2011 revolution

(Photo: AP)

In the past, it was customary for groups to shun Ultras, but this is no longer the case in some countries, even when their activities are violent. Journalist James Montag recently published a book about these organizations, and in an interview with GQ magazine said: “For many years Ultras saw people as outcasts, but governments in places like Poland, Hungary, Serbia and northern Macedonia have changed, and now their perceptions no longer seem radical. On the contrary, the ultras are mainstream. “

There are painful cases that mention that they can also be the engine of the horrors of war. The most famous example is that of Zeljko “Arkan” Regentovic, who founded the militia “Tigers of Arkan”, which was composed mostly of Ultras of the Red Star Belgrade. The militia was responsible for a significant part of the terror of the Balkan wars, and when its members approached the village most of the residents would shout in panic the “Red Star”, named after the football team.

The name of the Red Star fans goes before themThe name of the Red Star fans goes before them

The name of the Red Star fans goes before them

(Photo: EPA)

Similar to what we have seen in Israel recently, there are polarizing conflicts in Brazil over the question of the administration, and especially President Jair Bolsonaro. About two months ago, anti-fascist ultras’s groups from all four of São Paulo’s major clubs: the Corinthians, Palmeiras, São Paulo and Santos, went out to demonstrate in the streets, where they met Bolsonaro supporters. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.

In Morocco, ultras organizations operate in a variety of fields, and some attribute this to the culture that remained while the country was under French rule, so the stadiums were a place where the voice of protest could be raised.

Ultras in Ukraine. Are considered to be curb sendersUltras in Ukraine. Are considered to be bridle senders

Fans in Brazil clashed with Bolsonaro supporters

(Photo: getty images)

Ultras is one word that combines many meanings. It may have created a stigma linking these organizations to violence and extremist actions, a mad love for the club that slips off the field, but during the Corona crisis worldwide, ultras organizations were the driving force behind social fundraising projects and social assistance. There are countries where the power of the ultras is in extraordinary demonstrations of encouragement, requiring orderly production.

And here lies the power of the ultras as a significant political factor: whether it is used for the purposes of demonstrations, violence or silence, or whether to operate a machine that works for social justice, the bottom line is the level of order within the organization. Commanders, soldiers, clear instructions, people who are willing to mobilize totally for a particular purpose to produce a result. It is an appreciative mechanism when it works perfectly, and can get out of the sporting context smoothly and become a powerful tool during a protest.

Ultras in Ukraine. Are considered to be curb sendersUltras in Ukraine. Are considered to be curb senders

Ultras in Ukraine. Are considered to be curb senders

(Photo: EPA)

Everywhere the socio-political context gives Ultras a different meaning. They are unbridled in Eastern Europe, powerful beyond imagination in South America, communal in Germany, very political in the Muslim world. And now, like the camps standing on both sides of the streets, the bottom line of the Ultras in Israel will depend on the angle of view: some will see them as a disturbing and violent factor, others will see them as fighters for what they believe in.

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