Arab-Israeli team hails ex-Knesset lawmaker accused of treason


JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Arab-Israeli soccer team honored a former Knesset lawmaker who fled Israel amid accusations of treason and espionage.

Bnei Sakhnin held a ceremony Saturday saluting prominent Arab figures including Azmi Bishara, who was accused of providing information to the terrorist group Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and an  anonymous Qatari donor who gave $2 million to the team. Bishara left Israel in 2007 while under investigation and now lives in Qatar.

Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat threatened to remove the Jerusalem-based squad from the Israeli Premier League, saying in a statement that penalties and fines “are not sufficient measure.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for the team to join the Qatari or Palestinian soccer leagues. The team’s stadium is called Doha Stadium, named for the capital of Qatar.

On Saturday, during a match against Hapoel Tel Aviv, Sakhnin fans raised a banner reading “Jerusalem is ours” beneath a picture of the Al-Aksa Mosque in the city.

Balad chairman Jamal Zahalke, who visited Bishara in Qatar during Israel’s military operation this summer in Gaza, told The Jerusalem Post that the team needed the money from Qatar to keep the team afloat. Bishara founded the Balad party.

“Instead of attacking the team, politicians should make sure it has government funding, since it is in a difficult situation,” Zahalke said.

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