Jewish-Arab tensions flared after a scoreless playoff game between Israel’s only Arab premier league club, Bnei Sakhnin, and its rival Maccabi Tel Aviv descended into a brawl on the field Monday. Officials and staff at both clubs have been summoned before the national soccer association’s disciplinary court.
Video aired on Israeli TV showed coaches, trainers and players from both teams shouting angrily at each other at the end of the high-profile game held at the Doha Stadium in the northern Israeli-Arab city of Sakhnin.
At the end of the game, Bnei Sakhnin coach Yossi Abuksis approaches Tel Aviv’s bench and can be seen shouting angrily at Maccabi players before their goalie Predrag Rajkovic shoves Abuksis to the ground, sending him sprawling on the grass.
Both teams were cleared from the field by security.
Abuksis told Army Radio on Tuesday he approached the Tel Aviv bench to confront the players about abusive taunts their fans directed at him and Sakhnin players.
“The Maccabi supporters cursed me throughout the game so I protested,” he told the radio station.
He was then going to shake hands with Maccabi staffers, he said, when Rajkovic pushed him over.
But some reports said Rajkovic had himself been attacked. And Maccabi captain Eran Zahavi said Arab security guards had beat his teammates and provoked the scuffle.
“I didn’t know if I was playing in Israel or Ramallah,” the Haaretz daily quoted Zahavi as saying. ” I don’t feel safe here.”
The Israel Football Association summoned both teams for a disciplinary hearing, to be held on Wednesday. IFA prosecutor Nir Reshef said Bnei Sakhnin and Maccabi Tel Aviv would answer to charges including unsportsmanlike conduct from its players, staff and fans over racially charged chants.
Abuksis and Rajkovic will face the IFA disciplinary committee separately over charges of unsportsmanlike conducts and assault.
Bnei Sakhnin is the only Arab-Israeli club in the Premier League, the top division in the Israeli Football Association. Its state-of-the-art Doha football stadium and sports complex was built with millions of dollars in donations from Qatar in 2005.
In recent years, games between Sakhnin and other Israeli teams have often resulted in violent confrontations, riots and multiple arrests.
Games between Sakhnin and its archrival Beitar Jerusalem — known for its largely Jewish-nationalistic fan base — have required up to 600 police officers, private security guards and undercover detectives, who have attempted to root out displays of hostility and calls of racist incitement between fans.
Attending Monday’s game was Arab Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi, who told Channel 2 the following day that Maccabi fans provoked racial tension at the game by shouting both nationalistic and anti-Arab slogans.
He also took Zahavi to task for his “Ramallah” remark, charging the Maccabi captain was calling into question the Arab fans’ loyalty to the state.