JERUSALEM – Just prior to the Likud Party primaries last fall, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu arranged a press conference to introduce a variety of new faces who stood a legitimate chance of being elected to the Knesset.
Tal Brody, the legendary American-born Israeli basketball star who played a vital role in putting the Jewish state on the international sports map nearly 30 years ago when he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to victory over a strong Soviet team, was personally introduced by Netanyahu as his future minister of sports and culture.
Brody joked with the media that he looked forward to perhaps playing some hoops with President Obama, an ardent basketball fan.
The amiable Brody, who had spent the better part of his retirement from pro basketball making a small fortune in the insurance business near his Herzliya Pituach home, was an admitted political novice.
Running in the Likud primaries as the representative from the “central coastal district” (#24 slot on the overall Knesset list), Brody found himself in the midst of an unanticipated fierce battle against World Likud organization leader Danny Danon.
The politically savvy and well-organized Danon easily defeated Brody at the polls. Brody’s lawyers claimed Danon had falsified his residency status in the region, which would have disqualified his victory. After an arduous legal battle, the Likud’s own internal courts recognized Danon’s residency and thus his victory, much to the chagrin of both Brody and Netanyahu.
“I am not sorry that I ran for office,” Brody told The Jewish Press. “In fact, Netanyahu praised me for putting together an effective campaign in a very short period of time. However, I am disappointed in the way the system works.
“All the Israeli political parties have this system where all kinds of backroom deals are cut during the primary process. In my case, Danon cut a deal with Moshe Feiglin whereby Danon’s supporters backed Feiglin’s candidacy in exchange for the backing from Feiglin’s supporters.”
Though Feiglin garnered a large number of votes, the same internal Likud court that handed a victory to Danon punished Feiglin by slotting him way down the final Likud Knesset list, depriving him of a Knesset seat.
This is not what Brody had in mind when he ventured into Likud politics.
Brody hoists the European Cup trophy in 1977
“The only reason I got involved in this process was because I felt good and honest people must come forward to serve the country,” he said.
“I then realized that a substantial number of local Likud voters actually depend on getting jobs from these professional politicians, who end up being obligated to the voters. Bibi was supportive of my efforts and he asked me what I wanted to do for my country.”
Brody, who led the American basketball squad to a gold medal during the 1965 Maccabiah Games in Israel, was asked by Maccabi Tel Aviv officials and even legendary Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to bring his talents to the Jewish state.
A year later, Brody began his pro career in Israel, which reached its apex in 1977 when Maccabi Tel Aviv won the European Cup (forerunner to the EuroLeague).
Brody has always believed Israel could do more for its sportsmen on both the amateur and professional levels.
”My goal was to enter the Knesset and work with Bibi, who would appoint me minister of sports and culture,” he said.
”The government’s budget for the development of amateur sports in Israel has gone from $35 million a year to $10 million a year. We need to supplement that budget with funding assistance from well known sports organizations such as the NBA or the NFL.
”I was also hoping to spend time speaking with Jewish organizational leaders and create a sports program with Birthright-Israel Taglit. It’s important to tell the younger generation in the U.S. about my story to also encourage aliyah.”
As an ardent Zionist, Brody believes young Israeli children could also use a good dose of Jewish values.
”You know,” he remarked, “it would be nice if they stopped teaching about the Arab ‘Nakba’ – the so-called tragedy of Israel’s rebirth in 1948 – in Israeli schools and teach Jewish kids why they should be proud to be living in the Jewish state.”
While the chances of his being named Israel’s minister of sports and culture are now remote, Brody is still hoping to receive a phone call from Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu.
“I’m now retired from the insurance business and looking forward to starting my third career,” he said.
Steve K. Walz