Following the creation of the Eretz Israel Football Association in August 1928, the first nationwide football championship in Mandatory Palestine, the Palestine League, began in November 1931. The Palestine League's last edition was played during the 1946–47 season, and since then the national championship has been played under four names: the Israeli League, from 1949 to 1950; Liga Alef, between 1951 and 1954; Liga Leumit, from 1954 to 1999; and finally, since 1999, the Israeli Premier League.
In all, Maccabi Tel Aviv hold the record for most championships, with 19 titles; they are also the only Israeli club to have never been relegated from the top division. The next most successful teams are Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Beitar Jerusalem, with 13, 12 and six titles respectively.[nb 1] These four sides won every Israeli Premier League title from its inception in 1999 to 2012; due in part to this, they are sometimes described as Israel's "Big Four". While Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv have always been major players in the league championship, the consistent success of Maccabi Haifa and Beitar Jerusalem has been a relatively recent phenomenon, both clubs having won their first title during the 1980s. The longest run of successive titles is five, won by Hapoel Petah Tikva between the 1958–59 and 1962–63 seasons.
Following Israel's independence in 1948, the association dropped "Eretz" from its name and the cup was renamed the Israel State Cup. The league championship was held as the "Israeli League" for one season, in 1949–50; Maccabi Tel Aviv won the title.
A new top division, Liga Alef started play with the 1951–52 season. It became the second tier of Israeli football in 1954–55, when it was superseded as the top flight by Liga Leumit. Maccabi Tel Aviv won both of the championships held under this name.
The inaugural Liga Leumit season, 1954–55, ended with the championship leaving Tel Aviv for the first time since the first league season, 1931–32; Hapoel Petah Tikva finished the season top of the league while Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv came in second and third place respectively. Hapoel Petah Tikva then finished in second place three times in a row, with Maccabi Tel Aviv winning two of the next three titles and Hapoel Tel Aviv one, before starting a record run of five successive championship victories. Hapoel Petah Tikva's run of five consecutive titles between the 1958–59 and 1962–63 seasons remains unmatched today. Two Ramat Gan clubs, Hapoel Ramat Gan and Hakoah Ramat Gan, then claimed a title each before Hapoel Tel Aviv took the title back to Tel Aviv at the end of the 1965–66 season. In the 1966–68 season, often referred to as the "double season", the sixteen teams played each other twice at home and twice away during a season lasting two years.
When the Israeli Premier League became the top division of Israeli football in 1999–2000, Liga Leumit became the second division. Since then, only five clubs have won the title; Hapoel Tel Aviv, Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem. Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem are sometimes referred to as the "Big Four" of Israeli football. Having won seven titles in the league's 13 seasons, the most successful club during this period is Maccabi Haifa; during the same period Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv have won two championships each while Maccabi Tel Aviv have added only one to their total. Although Hapoel Tel Aviv have only finished top of the league twice since 1999—in 1999–2000 and ten years later in 2009–10—they have won the double on both occasions. This achievement was matched by Beitar Jerusalem in 2007–08. Ironi Kiryat Shmona won their first championship during the 2011–12 season, thereby becoming the first northern title-winners.
Six teams have completed the double by winning the Israeli State Cup during the same season. There have been 14 doubles won in total; the most successful club in this regard is Maccabi Tel Aviv, who have been both league champions and cup winners on six occasions.
^ abcdeBecause of the inconsistent league programme during the 1930s and 1940s, controversy remains concerning the number of titles won by Hapoel Tel Aviv during that period. The 1934–35 championship was abandoned with Hapoel Tel Aviv leading the standings; at the time it went unawarded but the Israel Football Association today recognises the title. The 1937–38 league season was also abandoned long before its end because of the Arab revolt in Palestine, once more with Hapoel Tel Aviv top of the table. As with the unfinished 1934–35 title, the Israel Football Association today lists the club as having won the 1937–38 crown. Counting both of these titles, Hapoel have five Palestine League championships and 13 in total, but FIFA and UEFA only credit the club with four pre-1948 titles, giving an overall total of 12. The club itself claims to have won 13 titles, five before independence and eight afterwards. This figure is corroborated by the Israel Football Association and Ynet.
^No national championship was held; instead regional leagues took place in each district. Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Tel Aviv district league and British Police won in Jerusalem, but the champions of Haifa are not known.
^During 1942–43, three regional leagues were held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Each regional champion was supposed to enter a three-way mini-league for the national title, but when the Haifa league was abandoned the national championship was reduced to a single match between the champions of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The champions of Jerusalem, Homenetmen, refused to play against Maccabi Tel Aviv, leading Maccabi to be declared national champions by default. Today the title is neither claimed by Maccabi Tel Aviv nor recognised by the Israel Football Association.
^Two regional leagues were held instead of a national championship. Beitar Tel Aviv finished top of the Southern District league while Hapoel Tel Aviv won in the Northern District.
^During the 1966–68 "double season", Mordechai Spiegler scored 38 goals; counting the two halves of the season separately, he scored 15 during 1966–67 and 23 during 1967–68.
^Maccabi Haifa's final match of the 2000–01 season, at home against Maccabi Tel Aviv, was abandoned after 82 minutes with Maccabi Haifa 3–2 ahead when supporters attempted to invade the pitch, resulting in a crush which injured 41 people. Maccabi Tel Aviv were awarded a 2–0 victory.