Azmi Bishara talks to reporters at a press conference at the Arab league headquarters on April 22, 2007
Azmi Bishara talks to reporters at a press conference at the Arab league headquarters on April 22, 2007 © Khaled Desouki - AFP/File
Azmi Bishara talks to reporters at a press conference at the Arab league headquarters on April 22, 2007
AFP
Last updated: October 20, 2014

Israel football body to discipline Arab team Bnei Sakhnin

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The Israel Football Association said Monday it is to take disciplinary measures against an Arab club in the Premier League over a tribute it paid to a fugitive former MP.

The IFA said it had "decided to take disciplinary action against Bnei Sakhnin" after the club paid tribute to those who had helped secure a Qatari donation to build its home ground, Doha Stadium.

Bnei Sakhnin is the Premier League's only Arab-Israeli club and its state-of-the-art football stadium and sports complex was built with millions of dollars in donations from Qatar in 2005.

Among those honoured at the ceremony, which took place before a match against HaPoel Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, was Azmi Bishara, a former MP who fled Israel in 2007 after being accused of collaborating with Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Bishara, who comes from the northern Arab city of Nazareth and now lives in Qatar, has repeatedly denied the allegations which accused him of advising Hezbollah during its 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

The ceremony triggered a furious response from several Israeli cabinet ministers who called for the team to be punished.

Premier League chief Oren Hasson also wrote a letter of complaint to the IFA, a copy of which was seen by AFP, saying the club had failed to inform the league about the nature of the ceremony.

The IFA said the club had violated two of its regulations, and was guilty of "unbecoming conduct" and of taking a stance, while on the pitch, on disputed political and public issues.

The allegations will be examined at a hearing on Wednesday, the association said in a statement.

Disciplinary offences can result in measures ranging from a warning to a monetary fine, losing points or even demotion from the league, IFA regulations state.

There was no immediate response from the club.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, known for his virulent anti-Arab diatribes and who, in 2006, called for Bishara to face the death penalty over the Hezbollah allegations, lashed out at the club.

"When a football team in the Israeli league thanks Azmi Bishara, who is suspected of spying and aiding Hezbollah ... strong measures should be taken against it," he wrote on Facebook.

Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat also slammed the tribute as "crossing a red line", saying the IFA should take "strict measures against the team," the top-selling Yediot Aharonot reported on Sunday.

But Bnei Sakhnin chairman Mohammed Abu Yunes played down the incident.

"A big fuss is being made out of nothing," he told the paper.

"We just wanted to thank the people who helped us raise money to support the team. What do they want from us? The establishment doesn’t give us money so why shouldn’t we raise money overseas?"

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