Using the expression "Back to Work" - which in Hebrew draws on the party's name, "Avoda" - the Labor Party on Thursday night officially relaunched its election campaign.
National Infrastructures Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and MK Ophir Paz-Pines set the stage for the crowd favorite, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who many within Labor feel has emerged stronger from Operation Cast Lead.
The small auditorium at Beit Berl College near Kfar Saba came alive as Barak took the stage. This was the defense minister's first stump speech since the war, and an opportunity to reply publicly to criticism recently leveled against him by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Olmert attacked Barak in an interview published Thursday in Ma'ariv, noting that Barak's poll numbers were less than the 19 seats won by his predecessor, former Labor leader Amir Peretz.
"Barak is not fit to be prime minister," Olmert said. "He failed as prime minister more than anyone else who has held the position in the history of the State of Israel."
In television interviews on Wednesday, Barak downplayed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's role in the decision-making process during Operation Cast Lead, calling her performance during the war "all right."
But on Thursday night, the defense minister began his speech by thanking IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and the army for what he called a victory based on "responsibility and professionalism."
"We still have another mission," Barak continued. "And that is to bring [kidnapped soldier] Gilad Schalit home. We are left with that test."
Barak went on to cite the successes of Operation Cast Lead, pointing out that residents of the country's South were now experiencing calm the likes of which hasn't been seen in eight years. "Israel has regained its deterrence," he declared.
Attacking his opponents, without mentioning Olmert or his comments, Barak said: "Kadima and Tzipi Livni - what exactly is their policy? Does anybody know? One day it's Left, the next day it's Right, this way, that way. That kind of decision-making is dangerous in the moment of truth, and I say to both [Livni and Netanyahu]: now is the moment of truth. We need someone who can meet the challenges facing Israel today, and I am saying right here and right now - I am that person, and I intend to run as such."
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