Berkovich removes himself as national coach nominee, Arab players oppose

Prior to his resignation as a possible candidate, Arab players from Israel's national team dispatched a message to Israel's Football Association, opposing Berkovich's appointment

Tal Ben-Haim and Omer Damari of the Israel national soccer team (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tal Ben-Haim and Omer Damari of the Israel national soccer team
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Eyal Berkovich removed himself as a possible candidate for coaching the Israel national soccer team on Sunday, after several Arab players from the team as well as other prominent Israeli figures opposed his nomination, according to Israeli media.
The committee responsible for appointing Israel's next national soccer coach will meet soon in order to examine their possible candidates, after Israel's previous national coach, Andreas Herzog, resigned earlier in June.
Prior to Berkovich's withdrawal as a possible candidate, Arab players from Israel's national team dispatched a message to Israel's Football Association, opposing his appointment: "None of us will play on the national team if Berkovich coaches it." After removing his name for the list of candidates, one player said: "this prevented a huge headache for many people."
On June, former member of Knesset Esawi Frej also voiced objection to Berkovich's appointment, sending a letter to Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper, demanding that Berkovich not be appointed due to "a record of racist comments," according to Frej.
Berkovich decided to remove his name from the list on Sunday, announcing that he won't be appearing in front of the committee. In an interview to Tel Aviv's radio station (102 FM,) Berkovich said: "If they want me to coach, they can cancel the committee."
Berkovich made headlines back in 2018, when he interviewed Bibras Natkho, first captain of the Israel national team to be of Circassian-Muslim origin, and questioned his decision to not sing Israel's national anthem "Hatikvah" during a match against the Romanian national team. 
"I appreciate Bibras as a player who gives everything out on the field. He's a great player and I appreciate and love him, but in my opinion, Bibras - you cannot be captain if you don't sing the national anthem [...] for me - you can't have the captain of Israel's national team not sing the anthem," he said.
Natkho responded by reminding Berkovich of the fact that Israel is home to various minorities, and that singing the anthem should not determine their place in the team. "Sorry Eyal, but to remind you, the State of Israel is home to non-Jewish people as well. I don't know if there's another country that speaks about religion in its anthem," he said, adding that his father "served in the Border Police for 30 years, he served the country a lot more than many others, who, to put it gently, don't contribute anything."
Berkovich told media after withdrawing his candidacy that he is not sorry. "If I was coach, only a player who sang the anthem would be able to become captain," he insisted. "I have some powerful memories from my career - The one I remember most is standing in a line and seeing Haim Revivo and Alon Hazan crying during the anthem. I won't give that up. If I'm the coach, the captain will sing the anthem." 
With 78 appearances in Israel's national team, Berkovich is considered one of Israel's greatest players. Since his years as a player, he has managed Hapoel Tel Aviv for a few months in 2014 and became the owner of Hapoel Rishon LeZion in 2015. Since November 2017, he has been co-hosting a talk show with Ofira Asayag called Ofira & Berkovic on channel 12.
Be it personal or professional reasons, it seems that unlike many previous estimates, Eyal Berkovich won't be Israel's next national coach.