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The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court sent out a clear message to Israeli sports fans this week when it sentenced a Maccabi Tel Aviv fan to 100 hours of community service for hurling racial epithets at a player on an opposing team. The punishment was meted out as part of a plea bargain.

The incident in question took place in May 2007, during a Premier League soccer match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and bitter cross-town rival Hapoel. The fan - who cannot be named for legal reasons - shouted anti-Arab slogans at Hapoel's Salim Tuama. Along with several dozen other fans, he was filmed in the act by police and was indicted for racially abusing a player during a sporting event.

As part of the plea bargain between the fan's attorney, Gil Dahuah, and the prosecution, the fan apologized to Tuama.

"I have never been a racist," he wrote in a letter to the player, "and I have never held racist views. I was carried away by the sporting rivalry of the occasion. I am ashamed of what I did and can only express my heartfelt remorse. I understand now what a hero you are for the way that you have succeeded, despite all the obstacles. I apologize unreservedly and I ask for your forgiveness."

Tuama accepted the fan's apology and the court approved the plea deal. In his ruling, Judge Yitzhak Yitzhak described the crime as "very serious," adding that it was the result of "unacceptable intolerance toward an entire section of Israeli society."