If the delayed start to the Israel’s Ligat Ha’Al season due to the recent 50 day war wasn’t enough, Arab-Israeli team of Bnei Sakhnin had caused all sorts of commotion around the country, leaving many to doubt their allegiance towards the white and blue.
On Saturday night, before playing against Hapoel Tel Aviv, Bnei Sakhnin presented a certificate of appreciation to several of the team’s sponsors, including the Emir of Qatar and member of Balad party and ex-MK – Azmi Bishara. The latter founded Balad and was an MK in the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th Knessets. In 2007, Bishara escaped to Qatar while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. He is also believed to be close to the Qatari royals, a major supporter of the Palestinians and Bnei Sakhnin.
Since then, many from the various entities within the Israeli government have voiced their opinions, with few even crossing the race barrier.
Culture and Sports Minister – Limor Livnat was reportedly quoted as saying, “There is no doubt that there has been a long series of crimes [by Bnei Sakhnin] but this was the worst. There needs to be a serious punishment.”
Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev from the Likud party called for an investigation on Bishara’s contributions to the team.
“It cannot be that the team and its fans will be allowed to continue anti-Israel activities. I expect that the attorney- general will accept my call to severely punish the team and give a clear instruction that such activities are not accepted on the soccer field.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the Israel FA to take a very strong action.
“When a soccer team in the Israeli League thanks someone who is suspected of spying and assisting Hezbollah, who fled the country and incites against Israel, strong measures must be taken against it.”
A few statements were recorded from the opposition as well with Balad chairman, Jamal Zahalka, being the most vocal of all stating these responses are nothing but shameful shots at mixing sports and politics.
“Instead of attacking the team, politicians should make sure it has government funding, since it is in a difficult situation.”
“Liberman’s sports incitement against Arabs. He is not the first fascist who criticizes athletes according to their skin color. He does not miss any opportunity or means to incite attack and spread poisonous hate and racism,” he said.
Amidst all this is the role of Qatar here. The natural gas rich country had always provided a shoulder for the Palestinians to lean on going above and beyond the usual financial payments that it and its neighbors provide.
Qatar is currently under the eyes of “FIFA” for financial wrongdoings involved in the World Cup 2022 bidding process. But apart from that the media has and continues to portray Qatar as a wealthy banker of terrorism (on the basis of its relationship with Hamas leader – Khalid Meshaal and harboring the ideology of Islamic Brotherhood).
Head of Knesset State Control Committee Amnon Cohen recently said that he would personally head an investigation into where Bnei Sakhnin was getting its funding from.
“We must re-examine the criteria for the transfer of State funds, from the Ministry of Sports and (sports book betting platform) Toto regarding this team, as well as look into the distinct possibility that they are receiving donations from countries that support and sponsor terrorism,” said Cohen.
Qatar is the first and the only country from the region to invest in Israeli football after funding Bnei Sakhnin in 2006 with the construction of the Doha Stadium at a cost of $6 million. The backing came after the club had won the 2004 State Cup. Prior to it had trouble receiving financial help from the concerned authorities with majority of the cash flow going towards the Jewish clubs. The budget breakdown below from the 2012/2013 season can be helpful in understanding the previous statement:
Bnei Sakhnin chairman Muhammad Abu Yunis does not regret what the team did and is thankful to Bishara for helping it raise money.
“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 honored are not donors, they are people who helped open the doors to Qatar,” he told Army Radio.
Since time could tell, Israel had vilified anyone who is or may sound anti-Semitic which should be the case. But the standards showcased here is ironic.
It was known for some time now that there are several factions within the Israeli football community that have supported anti-Arab chants with “death to A****” being a consistent theme among them. But none of these individuals who had raised their concerns on Bnei Sakhnin’s external funding displayed any sort of uneasiness over the malign racial slurs being hurled at fans and Arab-Israeli players alike.
Most infamous of all is that of legendary Arab-Israeli footballer – Abbas Suan, who gained instant recognition in 2006 after scoring a key goal in Israel’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland. A week later, he was greeted in Teddy Stadium (home of the most anti-Arab/Muslim club Beitar Jerusalem) by supporters of Beitar Jerusalem, with chants of “Suan, you don’t represent us” and “We hate all Arabs.”
Of course, recent events could have been avoided by Bnei Sakhnin. There was no reason to involve politics in Football but then again this is the Middle East. Politics is embedded in the blood and the soil and can be as erratic as the atmosphere on the streets of Gaza.
Either way, it’s easy to believe that Bnei Sakhnin’s appreciation of Bishara will result in some level of impact on the club’s ability to function, be it through a financial lock down or through club wide sanctions.
Indeed, it would be great to see common sense hold but the consequence remains to be seen. But if I have learned anything in my years of focus on reprimanding the actions of Arab Israeli’s, it is to expect the expected.