An Israeli football association appeals court has reinstated a league point docked from strugglers Beitar Jerusalem because of racist chanting by some of their supporters.
The court said it was swayed into reinstating the point because of the "huge efforts" Beitar was making to combat its own fans' racist behaviour.
The punishment, which now stands at two suspended points for the current season and next season, was imposed after Beitar fans chanted anti-Arab slogans at two league fixtures earlier this year against Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Ramat Gan.
The appeals court also said a 60,000 shekel ($17,400) fine that was imposed in the original sentence should go towards funding efforts to combat racism in soccer.
Beitar have the worst disciplinary record in Israel's Premier League. Since 2005 they have faced more than 20 hearings and have received various punishments, including points deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors.
Beitar Jerusalem’s matches often resemble a Middle Eastern battlefield. It’s mostly Sephardic fans of Middle Eastern and North African origin revel in their status as the bad boys of Israeli soccer. Their dislike of Ashkenazi Jews of East European extraction rivals their disdain for Palestinians.
Supported by Israeli right wing leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Beitar traces its roots to a revanchist Zionist youth movement. Its founding players actively resisted the pre-state British mandate authorities.
Its fans shocked Israelis when they refused to observe a moment of silence for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who initiated the first peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Beitar’s war reaches a feverish pitch when the team plays Bnei Sakhnin, an Israeli Palestinian team that won the Israel Cup in 2004.
Its racist outbursts have prompted the Israeli Football Association to become the Middle East’s only soccer league institution to launch a campaign against racism and discrimination.
Beitar were Israel's richest club until three seasons ago when their main financial backer, Russian-born billionaire Arkady Gaydamak, stopped most of his funding, although he continues to own the club.
They lie in 11th place in the 16-team division with 32 points from 28 games.
The club are the only one among the leading outfits never to have signed an Israeli-Arab player because of fan pressure.