Israeli Arab soccer team pays tribute to fugitive MK alleged to have spied for Hezbollah

Bnei Sakhnin ceremony prompts Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to call for its suspension from the Israeli league.

Former Balad MK Azmi Bishara (photo credit: TWITTER)
Former Balad MK Azmi Bishara
(photo credit: TWITTER)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for the suspension of the Bnei Sakhnin soccer team from the Israeli Premier League, after it paid tribute to fugitive former Balad MK Azmi Bishara at its game Saturday night.
At the beginning of the Bnei Sakhnin vs. Hapoel Tel Aviv game, the team held a ceremony thanking a wealthy man from Qatar for contributing $2 million to the team.
Balad party representatives accepted the award, mentioning Bishara’s name.
Bishara founded Balad and was an MK in the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th Knessets.
He fled Israel in 2007 while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the previous year’s Second Lebanon War. He currently resides in Doha, where he is the director of a think tank and is reportedly close to Qatar’s royal family, a major sponsor of Hamas.
Fans in the stands Saturday night waved banners reading “Jerusalem is ours,” with an illustration of the Temple Mount wrapped in a keffiyeh, and “The police are whores.”
Earlier this week, there were violent clashes between Muslims and police on Temple Mount.
Shortly after the game, Liberman wrote on Facebook that “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.”
Liberman called for the Israel Football Association and the league’s administration to consider suspending Bnei Sakhnin from the Premiere League, heavily fine the team and not allow it to play before fans in the stadium for a long time.
“I recommend that the team’s management move to the Palestinian or the Qatari league,” Liberman added.
Extreme right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote to the Football Association, saying that the ceremony “identified with terrorism, racism, criminals and those who fund terrorism and support it.”
“It’s not clear to me how a team that is funded by Israel can spit into the well from which it drinks and identify with those who fight the state,” he added, according to One. “Under those circumstances, I ask that Bnei Sakhnin’s activities be stopped, or at the very least that they be moved to a lower league.”
Ben Gvir also wrote letters to the Attorney-General’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office, asking that they investigate the team for criminal charges, and stating that if they do not do so, he will consider going to court.
The Football Association said Bnei Sakhnin asked only to give certificates of honor to the team’s sponsors and did not mention Bishara, and the association will put the team’s management on disciplinary trial.
FIFA and UEFA rules do not allow soccer teams to mix politics and soccer.