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Former soccer star Berkovic cleared of defamation after calling Arab MKs ‘spies’

The outspoken TV personality did not direct statement at any particular lawmaker, judge explains in ruling

Ofira Assayag, left, and Eyal Berkovic, right, during an interview with Transportation Minister Miri Regev, October 9, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
Ofira Assayag, left, and Eyal Berkovic, right, during an interview with Transportation Minister Miri Regev, October 9, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Former soccer star Eyal Berkovic was cleared Tuesday of wrongdoing in a defamation lawsuit that was launched after he called Arab Knesset members “spies” and “Trojan horses.”

The incident occurred in August 2018 during an episode of a TV talkshow co-hosted by Berkovic. The episode, which featured among its guests then-lawmaker Issawi Frej (Meretz), saw Berkovic rail at Arab lawmakers in general, saying, “They know they’re Trojan horses. They know they’re sitting in the Knesset but they’re spies, and they know they aren’t part of us.”

Frej, in response, sued Berkovic for NIS 100,000 ($30,000), but the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ruled Tuesday that Berkovic’s comments were not directed at Frej and that there was therefore no basis to rule in his favor. Frej will have to pay Berkovic’s legal fees.

Berkovic’s defense had initially sought to defend his remarks as true, Channel 12 reported. However, during a hearing in the case in 2019, the judge dissuaded his attorney from pursuing that line of defense, saying Berkovic would have to prove that Frej himself was a “Trojan horse, and I believe you will find that difficult,” the report said.

Meretz MK Issawi Frej attends a Economic committee meeting at the Knesset on July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The outspoken Berkovic has also riled politicians on the right, most recently in October, when Transportation Minister Miri Regev threatened to thwart the former soccer star’s ambition to coach the Israeli national team after he called her Likud party a “criminal organization” during an episode of his Channel 12 show.

Berkovic is one of Israel’s most legendary soccer players. He appeared in 79 games for the Israeli national team in the 1990s and 2000s, and played for a string of Premier League clubs over a career in Britain spanning a decade.

He has coached the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club and owned the Hapoel Rishon Lezion club.

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