Soccer club owner joins New Right election bid

Businesswoman Alona Barkat has brought the Hapoel Be’er Sheba soccer team back to a championship level and now hopes to succeed in politics.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

Alona Barkat, the owner of the Hapoel Be’er Sheba soccer club, joined the New Right political party on Thursday. The party is headed by current cabinet ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who left the Jewish Home party in December.

The Israel Football Association said that she could not remain as owner of the club.

At a midday news conference, Barkat said, “I am setting out on a new path….becoming a public servant. This is a step over which I have given much thought,” she added.

She said that her departure from the soccer club is emotional for her and that she “will continue to stand behind Hapoel Be’er Sheba.”

Management rights of the club are being handed over to Assi Rachamin, the club’s CEO. However, she argued that she can continue as owner, although acknowledging that it could pose a legal problem.

Barkat is a sister-in-law of former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. The former mayor is considered one of the surprises in Tuesday’s Likud primary, finishing high on the party list as he shifted from local to national politics.

There is speculation that Likud and New Right could join forces in the April 9th Knesset election if the center-left creates a united list to pose a formidable challenge to the continued rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.

Barkat bought the soccer club in 2007 and has been a big proponent of using sports for diplomacy and combating anti-Israeli sentiment abroad. The team improved dramatically with her at the helm and has won multiple titles.

“Alona is a great woman,” Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev of the Likud said on Army Radio in response to Barkat’s decision. “Obviously she has to resign from the management of Hapoel Be’ er Sheba. Because at the end of the day, someone who is involved in politics has to be someone who has no ulterior motive whatsoever.”