Hapoel Jerusalem Advances to Finals of International Basketball Competition; Greek Opponents AEK Fined After Supporters Attack Israeli Fans
by Shiryn Ghermezian
The Israeli basketball team Hapoel Jerusalem will compete for the first time ever in the Basketball Champions League Final Four following its 91-51 victory on Wednesday at Pais Arena in Jerusalem against the Greek team AEK, which was sanctioned this week after its fans attacked supporters of the Israeli team in Athens during a previous contest.
Hapoel Jerusalem kept a steady performance from the start of the game, ending the first quarter with an 18-7 lead before a halftime advantage of 43-22. Over 11,000 fans attended Wednesday’s game, waving hundreds of Israeli flags, and Hapoel Jerusalem broke the all-time record for the number of supporters in attendance at a single game, Israel’s Mako news outlet reported. The Hapoel fans in attendance were so loud that AEK players could barely hear their coach’s instructions and following Hapoel’s win, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar said “this is a victory over the antisemitism we saw last week in Greece,” according to i24News.
Hapoel Jerusalem won its first game of the 2023 Basketball Champions League — an annual professional basketball competition for European teams also known as the FIBA Champions League — but during its match in the quarterfinals on April 12 against AEK, fans of the Greek team tormented Israeli basketball fans cheering for the team inside the Ano Liosia Olympic Hall in Athens.
AEK fans threw rocks and firecrackers at hundreds of Hapoel Jerusalem supporters in the stands and also in the direction of the Israeli team. AEK supporters also burned the Israeli flag, carried Palestinian and Hezbollah flags, held up banners that had pro-Palestinian messages, reportedly chanted antisemitic slogans, and pointed laser beams at the eyes of Hapoel Jerusalem fans.
The Basketball Champions League announced this week that AEK will be fined 50,000 Euros for the violence that occurred during the April 12 game and all of its home games in the upcoming season will be held behind closed doors, without an audience.
Following the ordeal that took place at the April 12 game, AEK issued a statement accusing Hapoel Jerusalem of trying to take advantage of the situation and intimidating the team’s athletes as well as Greek referees, EuroHoops reported. AEK added that Israeli fans were promoting violences during the game and said in part that Hapoel “continues daily to dynamite the climate with the sole aim of polarizing the whole situation and the intimidation of our team and the referees ahead of Game 3.”
Hapoel Jerusalem joins the teams Unicaja Malaga and Lenovo Tenerife, both from Spain, and Germany’s Telekom Baskets Bonn in the 2023 Basketball Champions League Final Four, which will take place from May 12-14 in the Spanish city of Malaga. The official draw will take place on April 25 also in Malaga.