Let there be no mistake: Bnei Sakhnin was dead wrong to honor Azmi Bishara. Even with all its financial struggles, the club should do anything it can to disassociate itself from the likes of the former Balad MK, who fled Israel in 2007 while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the previous year’s Second Lebanon War.
Paying tribute to the fugitive – who was recognized during an otherwise innocuous ceremony on Saturday for those who helped the club with its cash flow, was a grave misjudgment which will cost Sakhnin dearly – and rightfully so.
However, as misguided as Sakhnin’s decision was, it was the reaction from a group of ridiculous politicians that caused me for one to feel more than a little nauseous.
Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect the likes of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to miss an opportunity to gain a political profit.
His contribution to Israeli sports through the years is incalculable, but only because he has done virtually nothing. However, there was no way he was going to miss the chance to make some headlines on the back of a sports-related event, especially with Liberman being able to play his favorite role of Arab-basher.
Perhaps if Liberman had helped Israeli soccer clubs with investments in infrastructure and youth development in his many years as a politician they wouldn’t have to look elsewhere to try and make ends meet.
The fact Sakhnin chose to turn to Qatar to raise money to renovate its stadium, subsequently renamed Doha Stadium, was foolish. But it didn’t end there, with the club left begging for help in the Arab world year after year as no one comes to its aid in Israel.
Liberman couldn’t care less about all of that as he attempted to poison one of the last places where it is proven daily that co-existence between Jews and Muslims in Israel is not only possible, but beneficial for all involved.
Israeli- Arabs play at every Premier League team besides Beitar Jerusalem (an ignominy made worse with every day that passes without the club itself ending it), with the Muslim citizens of Israel starring for the local national teams for many years.
It truly is co-existence at its best, which should be emulated in other walks of life, not eradicated by Liberman and Co.
Sakhnin first gained promotion to the top flight in 2003 and countless of Jewish players and coaches have been part of the club down the years. They almost all continue to speak very fondly of their experience at the Galilee club.
Liberman knows that, but he couldn’t give a damn. He sees his political power waning in recent polls so even the cheapest of shots is a welcome distraction.
Many other politicians, including Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Labor MK Eitan Cabel, condemned Sakhnin, but only Liberman allowed himself to react like a Beitar Jerusalem La Familia thug.
“When a soccer 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,” he wrote, as if Sakhnin had been raising money to set up terror cells rather than help pay professional soccer players in a timely manner.
Liberman went on to call for the Israel Football Association and the league’s administration to consider suspending Sakhnin from the Premier League, heavily fine the team and not allow it to play with fans in the stadium for an extended period of time.
“I recommend that the team’s management consider the option of playing in the Palestinian or the Qatari league,” Liberman quipped.
Liberman saw an easy opportunity to set off a blaze and he made the most of it with a characteristically inflammatory Facebook post.
Sakhnin will pay for its actions when it stands trial at the IFA’s disciplinary court on Wednesday. The club will face charges of misconduct and political involvement, and a fine combined with a ban from hosting several matches at its home stadium seem likely.
Politics and sports should not mix under any circumstance, and while Sakhnin claims that there was no political intent in honoring Bishara, it should have known better.
Sakhnin claims that Bishara is just a middle man between the club and Qatar, where he currently resides.
“I’m not a politician and I don’t get involved in politics,” said Sakhnin chairman Mohammed Abu Younes following Saturday’s match against Hapoel Tel Aviv.
“Bishara is no longer a politician and he played a part in securing the money. We didn’t receive the money from him but from a country. I’m surprised people are making such a big deal of this.”
While beggars can’t be choosers, Sakhnin must understand that there are people it can’t affiliate itself with regardless of the situation.
As for Liberman, there is not much that can be done. He hasn’t shown any real interest in helping Israeli sports in the past and is unlikely to do so in the future. He is best to be ignored regarding such matters.
His Facebook remarks are no more significant than those appearing on any other individual’s personal “wall.” He should just mind his own business, which clearly is not sports.