betar fans 88.298.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
Betar Jerusalem was sentenced Thursday to play two home games in front of empty stands for its fans' behavior during an away match against Maccabi Haifa on Sunday. Jerusalem's supporters booed and jeered throughout a minute of silence in memory of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that was held before the game.
An Israel Football Association tribunal found the club guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct. It also handed Betar a suspended sentence of playing two home matches at empty stadiums away from Jerusalem should a similar incident occur again.
"It's important to stress that the day in which a prime minister was murdered in Israel unifies anybody who values democracy," the verdict read. "We must condemn such behavior, not only with words, but with actions."
Betar vowed to fight the IFA's ruling.
"We condemn the behavior of those fans who booed, but we disagree with the tribunal's verdict and we plan to appeal the decision," Betar said in a statement.
Jerusalem also stressed in its statement that the tribunal's verdict wasn't unanimous. Attorney Israel Shimoni acquitted Betar, claiming that an educational effort would be the best way to deal with the fans behavior.
Should Betar's appeal fail, the team will play Hapoel Kfar Saba and Hapoel Tel Aviv in an empty Teddy Stadium, but will be able host Hapoel Kiryat Shmona as planned on Saturday.
Betar is three points clear at the top of the Premier League standings, having won six and drawn two of its matches. Kiryat Shmona, which is in a surprise fifth position, is winless in its last three league encounters.
Second-place Maccabi Netanya missed a chance to cut Betar's lead last week, drawing 0-0 at Kiryat Shmona.
Netanya will be without gifted forward Itai Shechter against Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday after the Under-21 international strained knee ligaments in his side's 4-0 win over Maccabi Herzliya in the Toto Cup on Tuesday.
Kfar Saba is in desperate need of a win after failing to claim all three points in any of its last five matches.
Maccabi Haifa, which is tied with Kfar Saba on 10 points, travels to Bnei Yehuda on Saturday in a crucial encounter for both teams.
Haifa has accumulated just one point in its last two matches and can't afford not to win Saturday's game. The team is closer to the relegation zone than it is to second place and another loss could see it lose touch with the league's top sides.
"This match is very important to us because of our position in the standings," Haifa coach Roni Levy said. "We aspire to finish as high as possible. We're playing well at the moment, but we need to translate that to wins."
Bnei Yehuda has lost its last three matches and is only four points above the relegation zone.
Maccabi Herzliya is one of the in-form teams in the league, winning three of its last four matches. The Sharon club hosts third-place Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday in Ofer Fabian's first match as Petah Tikva's caretaker coach. Former coach Yossi Mizrahi left the team on Monday for a lucrative offer from Cypriot side Apollon Limassol.
Also on Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Ashdod SC.
On Sunday, Hapoel Tel Aviv will be looking for its first win of the season when its hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium in what promises to be one of the most hotly contested matches of the year.