Israeli politicians are calling for a top-flight Israeli football club to be expelled from the League after it paid tribute to fugitive Azmi Bishara ahead of its game at the weekend.
Bnei Sakhnin, the country’s only Israeli-Arab team, honoured Bishara, who in 2007 fled Israel while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Having held a ceremony in his honour ahead of their match against Hapoel Tel Aviv, Sakhnin supporters then waved banners reading “Jerusalem is ours,” with an illustration of the Temple Mount wrapped in a keffiyeh, during the match.
Following the game, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, wrote: “When a football team in the Israeli League thanks someone who is suspected of spying and aiding Hezbollah, who fled from the country and incites against the State of Israel, there must be serious consequences.” Calling on the Israel Football Association and the league’s administration to consider suspending the club, heavily fine the team and not allow them to play in front of their fans for a long time, he added: “I recommend that the team’s management move to the Palestinian or the Qatari league.”
Limor Livnat, the Israeli Culture and Sport Minister, went a step further, saying: “There is no doubt that there has been a long series of crimes [by Sakhnin] but this was the worst, there needs to be a serious punishment.”
“Honouring Bishara isn’t just another provocation, Bnei Sakhnin crossed a true redline and acted in a way that does not belong on the football field or anywhere else.”
Premier League director-general Oren Hasson told Army Radio he received a list of the people Sakhnin intended to honour ahead of the game, and Bishara wasn’t on the list.
However, Sakhnin chairman Muhammad Abu Yunis said he doesn’t regret what the team did and is thankful to Bishara for helping it raise money. He said: “We don’t get money from the establishment and we are barely surviving. If we didn’t have money from Qatar we would not be able to open the league. The people who we honoured are not donors, they are people who helped open the doors to Qatar.”
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