Culture, Israel, Politics

Forever Pure (This Film is Not About Soccer)

Other Israel Film Festival - 10th AnniversaryJewschool is proud to once again sponsor the best of Israeli documentary films showing at the Other Israel Film Festival, the largest festival devoted to the history, culture, and identity on the topic of minority populations in Israel, from Dec 1-8 in NYC.

Maya Zinschtein’s documentary, Forever Pure, is a film about soccer, except not really. If you’ve never watched a soccer game in your life, understanding how the sport works actually doesn’t matter as much as the fact that, in Israel, soccer is a very big deal. What Forever Pure is really about is extremism, told via the lens of the game, the players, and its fans. 
Early in the film comes a poignant statement from former Beitar Jersualem owner Arcadi Gaydamak: “At a subconscious level, football is a clash between groups. It is a kind of war.”  Forever Pure chronicles the 2013 season of Beitar  (you might recognize its black and yellow crest), during which the team owners signed two Chechen Muslim players,  Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev. Sadayev and Kadiyev weren’t the first Muslims to join Beitar – Tajik player Goram Ajoyev’s religion went largely unnoticed during the 1989-90 season, when the team was floundering, and he scored a goal that earned Beitar a spot in Liga Leumit, the top Israeli soccer club at the time. After Ajoyev, there was star player Viktor Paco, who eventually declared that he was Muslim in the Israeli press, and Ndala Ibrahim, of Nigeria, who played four games in 2005 while on loan from Maccabi Tel-Aviv (a rival of Beitar). He was mobbed by Beitar fans and returned to Tel-Aviv, and eventually, Nigeria.
Beitar Jerusalem fans did not take well to the addition of Sadayev and Kadiyev, and Forever Pure is an examination of the politics of team’s fans and, by extension, the force that racism in Israeli society. It’s useful to understand the geography of Teddy Stadium, where the team plays, specifically that the eastern sections of the stadium are regularly occupied by La Familia, a far-right group which supports Beitar Jerusalem. La Familia is known for chanting racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs at games (you can hear them throughout the film), for supporting right-wing politicians – Avigdor Lieberman is a frequent East stand attendee – and for members who have gone as far as to commit arson in the name of keeping its team “pure” (read: Arab and Muslim free). La Familia’s ability to impact the decisions of the team owners and ultimately, the future of the team, is stunning and disturbing, especially in the political context of Israel.
Forever Pure never directly refers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it’s more about what goes on inside Israeli society itself, in terms of attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims (although we know the two things to be inextricable).There are remarkably few women; Dzhabrail Kadiyev’s mother appears, and there might have been one female Beitar fan at the beginning of the film, but that’s it, which does provoke questions about the gender make-up and culture of Israeli soccer fans. And while there’s mention of moderate Beitar fans, the documentary focuses on the extremists and the reactions of the team to them.  It’s a very contained film in that we only ever see things through the lens of soccer – the team, the owners, the fans, and the role the game plays as connective, and divisive, tissue in Israeli society. In the (spoiler alert) unsuccessful attempt to integrate Beitar, there are a lot of moments of action and inaction that folks acquainted with conversations about Israel, both in the country itself and in the states, will recognize, including this chillingly relevant statement by former Beitar chairman Itzik Korenfein: “The fans think that death to Arabs equals love for the Jewish nation.” 
If you’re in New York, you can see Forever Pure at the Other Israel Film Festival on December 4th, co-presented by Doc NYC, Healing Across the Divides, OneVoice Movement, Open Hillel, Partners for Progressive Israel, and Ultimate Peace.

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