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Regev to ex-soccer star: ‘Apologize to Likud or you’ll never be national coach’

Transportation Minister Miri Regev exploded at a Channel 12 talk show host and retired soccer star on Friday, telling Eyal Berkovic that he will “never be the coach of Israel’s national team” if he does not apologize to her Likud party for calling it a “criminal organization.”

Regev appeared on the popular Hebrew-language talk show “Ofira and Berkovic,” hosted by TV personalities Berkovic and Ofira Assayag, to discuss the coronavirus crisis.

Regev’s defense of the government response quickly became heated, including her defense of Likud Minister Gila Gamliel and the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who were both accused of breaching lockdown restrictions.

After Berkovic said “the people are suffering” due to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, the conversation devolved into a shout-fest centered on the “criminal organization” comments Berkovic made to Likud MK Miki Zohar last week.

Regev and Zohar are considered close allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads the Likud party, and is under indictment for corruption charges. Regev previously served as the Minister of Culture and Sport.

Regev shouted at Berkovic on, “For as long as you don’t apologize to the Likud members, you will never be the coach of Israel’s national team.”

She demanded Berkovic apologize to “the one and a half million Likud members who you called ‘members of a criminal organization.’”

Berkovic, remaining calm, told Regev he had been referring in his comments to “only you, and your whole crew.”

“You and your crew. It’s not connected at all to the voters,” he said.

Referring to Netanyahu by his nickname, he said he had been speaking about “Bibi, and around five of his foot soldiers.”

Regev continued her verbal broadside, saying, “Shame on you. I wish you could get to have even a quarter of our morality. We’re proud of who’s running this country and that is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

She accused Berkovic of playing up political favorites.

“You’re always crowning new kings. Flipping them over like a steak. One time it was [former finance minister Moshe] Kahlon, another time [Blue and White party chief Benny] Gantz. You turned Gantz into a messiah. Where is your messiah now?” she said.

Regev recorded a video as she was traveling in a car home from the interview and uploaded it to her Facebook page.

“I’m on my way home after a very difficult interview with ‘Ofira and Berkovic.’ Now is not the time to abandon the field, but to answer them. It cannot be that they call one and a half million Likudniks ‘members of a criminal group.’”

“The time has come to put it all on the table, to answer them and not be afraid. So raise up your voices, because they cannot turn us into a punching bag. I really hope they don’t edit that interview, and will broadcast it as-is to the Israeli public,” she said.

The statement has been viewed well over 500,000 times and generated tens of thousands of reactions.

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 Premiership clubs over a career in Britain spanning a decade.

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

After “initial success” containing the virus in Israel with early lockdown restrictions, the government’s handling of its reopening has been widely criticized, with second-wave infections spiraling out of control in recent months.

The current lockdown, Israel’s second since the pandemic started, began on September 18 before Rosh Hashanah and was tightened a week later. It is currently set to end on October 14. It closes non-essential businesses, limits gatherings, and limits movement, including for protests and prayers.

It has been marked by clashes between enforcing police and ultra-Orthodox protesters, as well as between police and anti-government protesters who are calling for Netanyahu’s resignation due to his ongoing corruption trial and the government’s handling of the virus outbreak.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper says politics won’t be a factor in the selection of the next coach of the national soccer team.

Tropper is responding to Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s comments yesterday that Eyal Berkovic, a talk show host and former soccer star, would never coach the team because he called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party a “criminal organization.”

Regev, a Likud ally of Netanyahu’s, was culture and sports minister before Tropper.

“We’ll conduct ourselves in a statesman-like and a topical way. Politics and the politicians will remain on the side. A specific political view doesn’t need to be related to the position of coach,” Tropper is quoted saying by Army Radio.

Following Regev’s comments, Berkovic told Sport One that he hopes to be the next coach of the national team.

The current coach, Willibald Ruttensteiner, is set to step down in December.

Source: Luke Tress – TOI