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Jerusalem Magistrate's Court has handed down the first-ever conviction of a soccer fan for incitement to racism, for shouting "death to Arabs" during a December 2001 match in the capital.

Yosef Cohen, 33, shouted the insults with numerous other soccer fans at the end of a minute of silence marking the death a few days earlier of a Beitar fan in a terror attack. The incident took place at Teddy Stadium before the start of a match between Beitar Jerusalem and Ironi Ashdod.

"I said death to the Arabs because that's what I felt at the time," Cohen said in a statement to police.

He said in court "there was nothing to it, just like you shout `go Beitar' you shout `death to the Arabs.' There's no contradiction between the two."

The judge ruled yesterday that Cohen's words constituted incitement to racism since "a man who testifies that he shouted `death to the Arabs' as part of a crowd, because that's what he thought, in his own words, is saying that Arabs deserve to die because they are Arabs."

The Jerusalem District Prosecution announced two weeks ago that it would step up the fight against racist behavior at soccer games. Indictments were filed last week against six Beitar Jerusalem fans, who are also charged with shouting "death to the Arabs."

According to district attorney Eli Abarbanel, "this is ugly thuggish behavior with no element of free expression, but just plain incitement to racism, which cannot be tolerated in a civilized country."