For the second time in their short careers in electoral politics, New Right leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked looked to soccer as a way to boost their party, hoping Hapoel Beersheba owner Alona Barkat will bring their new party into the big leagues as she did with her soccer team.
Barkat, who is expected to be third on the New Right list, bought the second-tier team in 2007. In 2016, Hapoel Beersheba won its first national title in 40 years. She plans to reduce her involvement in the team and eventually stop it entirely.
A video released by the party emphasized that Barkat grew up in a religious home with parents who immigrated from Yemen, with “a love of the Land of Israel and the people of Israel.” Barkat married Eli Barkat, brother of former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who made it into the Likud’s top ten in the party’s primary this week. The Barkat brothers made a fortune as early investors in the IT company Check Point.
Barkat said in a Tel Aviv press conference that she was surprised by the offer and that joining politics was a difficult decision, but she “saw the opportunity to make a social change [with the New Right], to take the change we made in Beersheba and bring it to all of Israel.”
“Israel needs social change. We all feel this. We cannot leave any children behind,” she said. “We must make sure that every child in Israel will know that any dream is possible, that any achievement is accessible if they want it, believe it and work hard. We, as a system, have to create the conditions for success and remove obstacles.”
As for the New Right’s other positions, she expressed support for Shaked’s battle against judicial activism as justice minister and said she “believes in our eternal right to the Land of Israel and our responsibility to work [the land] and protect it.”
Bennett called Barkat a “winner” and said he hopes she will “take the revolution she brought to Beersheba and bring it to all of Israel... Alona Barkat proved to all of Israel in the past 12 years that whoever is willing to make an effort can succeed anywhere, under any conditions. Alona Barkat taught us that with persistence and patience, a team can be brought from the depths of the second league to be Israel’s champion.”
Shaked said Barkat is a “social warrior” who wants to help the children of the periphery.
Bennett and Shaked first turned to soccer for a political boost before the 2015 election, when Bennett led Bayit Yehudi, recruiting legendary Jerusalem soccer player Eli Ohana to the party. Bayit Yehudi activists were outraged by his addition. Their reactions reached the media, as did a conversation in which Shaked told activists that Ohana was “actually intelligent,” which some interpreted as a condescending comment about Ohana’s Sephardi background, even though Shaked is half-Sephardi. Ohana quit the party’s list three days later, and it soon came to light that Bennett had asked him to do so.
Barkat is the fifth woman out of seven candidates to be announced on the New Right list. The others are Shaked, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, formerly of Bayit Yehudi, former Jerusalem Post
columnist Caroline Glick and disability rights activist Shirley Pinto, the first deaf person to run for a seat in the Knesset.
Nir Barkat congratulated the new candidate, writing on Twitter: “I love you my dear sister-in-law and wish you luck on your entrance to public service. After you acted and succeeded in Beersheba and other places, I am certain you will act and succeed for all the people of Israel. I am convinced we will know to work together as usual, after the elections.”
Also Thursday, the committee that appointed Bayit Yehudi’s new leader, former IDF chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, convened to find a woman to appoint to the party’s list. Women came in sixth and ninth place in the Bayit Yehudi central committee’s vote, and the 13-member special committee is expected to choose a woman to put in third place.
Yisrael Beytenu announced a new party member, former Diamond Exchange CEO Eli Avidar. Before moving to business, he was a diplomat in the Foreign Ministry, representing Israel in Qatar.
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