Alona Barkat, owner of soccer team Hapoel Beersheba, announced Thursday she was entering politics and joining the New Right party.
“I have decided to answer the call,” she told reporters in a press conference.
“I chose to come to Beersheba because we wanted to prove that it was possible to make it big in the Negev. We sought to prove that it’s possible to instill values through soccer,” she said. “After 12 wonderful years I understand it is my duty to take that belief one step forward. To try to bring the social change from the team to all of Israel.”
The Calcalist newspaper reported that Barkat will receive the number 3 spot in the new party headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelete Shaked, formerly of Jewish Home.
Barkat is the sister-in-law of former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who won the 9th spot on the Likud party’s Knesset slate in Tuesday’s primary.
Barkat became the first woman to own a professional soccer club in Israel when she bought Hapoel Beersheba in 2007, with the support of her husband Eli Barkat, a high-tech businessman.
Hapoel Beersheba were at the time struggling in the second division and playing in a dilapidated stadium, a far cry from its glory days of the 1970s.
They returned to Israel’s premier league in 2009 and in 2016 won their first national title in four decades. They repeated the feat in 2017 and 2018.
Under her leadership, the club has also invested heavily in local youth. It sponsors four specialized centers for disadvantaged children who receive training from club staff.
Barkat said she hoped to bring to politics “those same values we’ve championed [in Beersheba], and in that manner to try and influence all of Israeli society.”
She said she would remain Hapoel Beersheba’s owner but would turn the team’s management over to its CEO Asi Rahamim so as not to mix politics and sports.
Likud’s Culture Minister Miri Regev welcomed Barkat’s entry into politics, telling Army Radio “It’s nice they’ve managed to bring in a Mizrahi woman from soccer.”
She added that Barkat needs to cut her ties to Hapoel Beersheba as “whoever is in politics can’t have…potential conflicts of interest.”
The New Right party also includes Jewish Home alumnus Shuli Moalem-Refaeli. Since its split from Jewish Home in December, it has enlisted US-born Jerusalem Post journalist Caroline Glick, deaf rights activist Shirley Pinto, and former fighter pilot Col. (res) Matan Kahana.
The party is currently polling at around seven seats in the April 9 elections.
AFP contributed to this report