L.A. pair buy troubled Israeli soccer team

JERUSALEM—Fans of the struggling Beitar Jerusalem soccer team hope the club’s new owners, Dan Adler and Adam Levin from Los Angeles, and a group of private investors, will help it regain much of its former glory.

Adler and Levin flew to London late this week to purchase the team from the Russian-Israeli businessman Arcadi Gaydamak. The Friends of Beitar organization said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat helped negotiate the deal, and Adler said the original contact came through Migdal Ohr, a Torah-inspired educational nonprofit for Israeli children-in-need.

In 2008 Beitar, which was created in the 1930s, scored league and cup championships but its fortunes faded when Gaydamak fled Israel after being accused of money laundering and other charges. The team has since been steeped in debt and its future uncertain.

In a statement heralding the purchase, the Friends of Beitar organization noted that both Adler and Levin have a “strong history of support to Israel and the Jewish communities around the world.”

In an interview here, Adler, CEO of Media Eagles, a strategic advisory firm involved in entertainment projects and business development, said he and Levin decided to purchase the team because they are “Zionists and entrepreneurs.”

“We saw this as a unique opportunity to combine both of those loves in helping to rebuild one of the most historic sports franchises in one of the most magical and meaningful spots on earth.”

Adler said their goal is “to expand the reach” of Beitar Jerusalem on a global basis while ensuring it has the financial resources to succeed in the field.

“What we bring to the table is our diverse backgrounds that span a range of disciplines,” Adler said. He called Beitar Jerusalem “a diamond in the rough.”

Those who know the team and its fans might call that an understatement.

In addition to its poor record of late, some of Beitar Jerusalem’s fans have a reputation for being anti-Arab and racist. Their actions have resulted in penalties levied on the team.

In its long history, the team, which is associated with Israel’s political right wing, has reportedly never fielded an Arab player.

Adler said he and Levin are well aware of the team’s negative reputation and are committed to fostering tolerance among the team’s players and supporters.

During their discussions with the previous owners, the team’s management, and Mayor Barkat, Adler said he and his group “made it clear that we do not want to be involved in a team whose culture and fan base behaved poorly or did not respect others.

“We do believe that, if the owners, the team, the community and most importantly, the fans all come together in a shared mission, we will ensure not only the success of the team on the field, but also the good will of a community united in pride and in the celebration of Jerusalem and the club,” Adler said.

In an interview in the weekend newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Adler predicted that the team “will change the nature of the public.”

While Beitar fans said they are thrilled the team has new financial backers, some questioned whether the owners from California, a place Israelis perceive as liberal, will be able to foster a new atmosphere.

“The Beitar players are braggarts and racists,” said a newspaper vendor who gave only his first name, Avraham. “If they win they’ll say it’s because they’re the best. If they lose, they’ll blame the new owners.

“I pity the new owners,” Avraham said, shaking his head.

Aviad Silberschein, 19, also marveled at the pairing. “It’s strange, but Beitar needs a lot of money and they have money, and that’s evidentally what Beitar cares about,” Silberschein said.

But Adler cautioned against political stereotyping: “Our commitment has been to an active and open dialogue and to processes that foster an environment for a long-term solution…. Just because the Israeli press is reporting us as ‘far left’ does not mean we are.  What we are is realists, committed to doing whatever we can to set the stage for peace.”

For Amir Tsaban, a hairdresser who said he knows many of the players personally, the deal isn’t so difficult to fathom.

“The only thing that’s important to the players is money, the team and winning,” he said.

Tsaban predicted that the investors’ first encounters with the team in Jerusalem “will be a balagan [chaos],” but that ultimately, if they make it clear that any future changes are being done for the team’s benefit, “they’ll work with [them].”