Messi joins the Beitar Jerusalem fan club, a controversial decision given the past accusations against the team.
Football superstar Lionel Messi is now a member of the Beitar Jerusalem fan club. The team’s owner Moshe Hogeg presented Messi with a card during an event in Barcelona on Tuesday, according to the Times of Israel.
Messi is also involved in Hogeg’s tech company Sirin Labs, where he advertises the company’s products like their new phone Finney. Hogeg bought the football team earlier this year, and it seems he has brought Messi along to represent that as well.
In the past, Messi has faced scrutiny several times for his close relationship to Israel. In 2013, Messi and his club team FC Barcelona visited Israel in a peace tour, where a photo emerged of him kneeling at the wall with a Jewish yamaka, drawing criticism from many Arabs that said he was alienating a large amount of his Muslim fanbase with his actions.
Messi also tried to visit Israel again this year with the Argentina national team for a friendly game before the world cup, but it was canceled after fans protested the game because of Israeli actions in Palestine.
International protests grew after a video emerged of a Palestinian football player being shot by Israeli snipers.
Messi’s latest involvement with Beitar has already drawn controversy, due to the fan base’s past actions. In 2012, fans of the team marched into a mall in Jerusalem and began assaulting Arab employees, and in 2013 fans of the team protested to the team’s signing of its first two Muslim players. In 2017, an official on the team also stepped down after declaring he would never bring a Muslim player back to Beitar, according to Al-Araby news.
Beitar has responded to these incidents by trying to crack down on racist behavior, threatening to revoke fans’ tickets displaying anti-Arab sentiment. In addition, police have conducted operations against violent, bigoted fans as well. Despite these actions, it seems Beitar’s reputation has become intertwined with its fans actions, and Messi’s allegiance to the team will likely inflame old tensions and continue to alienate a large part of his international fanbase.