The Knesset House Committee on Monday approved a request by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to split from the Labor party and form a new faction called 'Independence' (Atzmaut). The split was approved with a majority of 11 MKs voting in favor.
Shortly after the announcement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a request to begin coalition negotiations the newly-formed faction. Representatives from Netanyahu's office are expected to meet with Labor breakaway representatives MK Einat Wilf and Agricultural Minister Shalom Simhon.
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Speaking at a press conference at the Knesset after he and four other Labor MKs submitted the request, Barak said that the new faction that would be "centralist, Zionist and democratic."
Barak said that the faction's agenda will be "first of all the state, then the party, then the media, and only then ourselves." He vowed that he and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, Simhon, Deputy Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Orit Noked, and Wilf would "do what's best and what's right for Israel."
"We are creating a new faction and we will call on everyone who believes in our path to join."
"We are leaving for a new path. We are leaving a home and people we love," Barak continued.
"It wasn't always healthy and good for Labor. We noticed a shift towards the Left and post-Zionism," Barak said.
"This isn't easy for me. [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon, [former prime minister David] Ben-Gurion, [President Shimon] Peres did it. I didn't think I would have to do it, but we are doing it. We are going to a new path," Barak explained.
Einat Wilf explained that the two parties ideologically cannot sit together anymore. "One party wants to be close to Meretz and one, that in the tradition of Mapai, sees itself as pragmatic.This party believes that threats to leave the coalition harm the diplomatic process," she said.
"We believe the best way to advance the process is with the current government. It's important that there be a leftist social party in Israel but it wasn't right for us," Wilf continued.
Vilani also explained his reasons for joining the initiative to leave the party.
"Honestly, we were left with no choice. It was intolerable. We couldn't work that way anymore," he said.
Vilani said, "There are many party members who are angry and said how can you do this to us?"
"I am sure we can do something different. We will act with full force for peace, first with the Palestinians then with the entire Arab world," he continued.
Simhon said that Labor had four or five factions acting independently. "At times, I was the only one voting with the coalition and during cabinet meetings, I was dealing with problems of ministers who were in the government while attacking it."
"This situation was unacceptable. This process will expedite things that must occur in the Israeli Left. People ask if we are destroying Labor. We aren't destroying Labor. Labor was destroyed when a minority group refused to accept a decision of 2500 members [to enter the coalition]," he explained.
Later in the morning, the House Committee was scheduled to meet to vote on the split.
House Committee Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) received a letter signed by the five would-be members of the new faction asking to hold a vote to approve the faction's formation. MK
Sheli Yachimovich on Monday deemed the new party created by Barak and the four recently-resigned Labor members, the "Akirov Faction," in reference to Ehud Barak's
residence in Tel Aviv's Akirov buildings.
Yachimovich said that
the "Barak-Netanyahu axis that exists today is an Akirov-Caesarea [where
the prime minister has a home] axis, and with all the spurning that
this connection yields, this is an opportunity for the Labor Party to
sharpen its message and to heal."
Yachimovich called on the eight
remaining members of the Labor Party to choose a new chairman today,
saying: "I urge members of the Labor Party to overcome internal
rivalries, to join together and convene still today to pick a new party
leader."Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report