Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on Saturday for the suspension of the Israeli-Arab soccer team Bnei Sakhnin from the Israeli Premier League and urged that strong measures be taken against it after its representatives paid tribute to former Knesset Member Azmi Bishara (Balad), who is suspected of spying for Hezbollah.
Before the game between Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Doha Stadium in the Galilee town of Sakhnin, the Israeli-Arab soccer team held a ceremony in honor of their Qatari sponsors, during which recognition plaques were given to several people – including Azmi Bishara.
Bishara was a Knesset Member and founder of the Israeli-Arab Balad party, who fled Israel in 2007 after he was questioned on suspicion of aiding Hezbollah.
According to the allegations, Bishara made contact with a Hezbollah agent during the Second Lebanon War and passed along information about strategic sites in Israel in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The charges state that the militant Shi'ite organization intended to launch Katyusha rockets at the sites that Bishara provided information about.
"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, serious measures must be taken against it," Lieberman said.
"I call on the Israel Football Association and the Premier League's management to suspend Bnei Sakhnin from the league and take immediate, harsh measures against it such as heavy fines, and force it to play home games behind closed doors for a long period."
Liberman added: "I recommend that the team's management consider moving and playing for the Palestinian or Qatari league."
During the ceremony, Sakhnin mayor Mazen Ghanayem, waved a portrait of Azmi Bishara. In addition, recognition plaques were given to a representative of the Balad party, as well as to the Prince of Qatar.
There was tension in the stands as well, where Bnei Sakhnin fans waved the sign: "Jerusalem is ours", arousing the ire of Hapoel Tel Aviv fans who responded by singing: "Jerusalem isn't in Europe. It's in Jordan."
The Football Association said in response: "Azmi Bishara's name was not mentioned in the request issued by Bnei Sakhnin to give recognition plaques to the team's sponsors.
The statement further said that "in an early conversation with the Sakhnin management, it was made clear that it is forbidden to involve MKs or any other political figures in the ceremony. The management views this deceptive act harshly."
Lieberman also commented on statements made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday that Jews should be banned from visiting the Temple Mount, saying that his rhetoric "reveals, once again, the true face of the Holocaust denier who speaks of a Palestinian state free of Jews, who was and remains an anti-Semite."
On Sunday, the Palestinian president said his people should guard a Jerusalem holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims against visiting Jews, who he referred to as a "herd of cattle."
Abbas suggested Jews should be banned from a holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims after hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza participated in a Hamas-organized rally Friday over Jerusalem's flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque, the scene of recurring clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in recent week.
Abbas made the comments following recent clashes between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli forces over what Palestinians see as Jewish encroachment on the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
Abbas said Jews should be prevented from entering the site "by any means," adding that "this is our Noble Sanctuary... they have no right to enter and desecrate it."
On Thursday, Hamas political leader, Khaled Mashal, called for Muslims to defend the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, saying Israel was trying to seize the site.
On Wednesday, four Palestinians were arrested following clashes with police at the Old City site.
Two days earlier, demonstrators clashed with security officers when non-Muslims were to visit the site.
Roi Kais and news agencies contributed to this report.