Barak smiles 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With his hands held high and victory balloons floating overhead, newly elected Labor chairman Ehud Barak reached out to his supporters in Tel Aviv early Wednesday morning with a call to unify the party and the country.
"Today begins our long journey together," he said.
For Barak and party members, it is the second time they have headed down this road.
Six years after resigning as Labor chairman, Barak returned to the political limelight by defeating MK Ami Ayalon overnight Tuesday by a 3.4 percent margin in the party's leadership race, 51.2% to 47.8%.
Supporters waited at party headquarters in Tel Aviv until 2 a.m. Wednesday to celebrate his return to power. Many of them said the vote was just the first step on the way back to the Prime Minister's Office, where Barak served from 1999 to 2001 before being defeated by Ariel Sharon.
When Barak walked into Labor Party headquarters, flushed with victory, he was greeted with hugs, cheers and chants of "Here comes the next prime minister."
MK Eitan Cabel, the party's secretary-general, even introduced him as a candidate for prime minister.
As Barak stood on the stage, the crowd cheered and chanted, "Ehud, Ehud!" as the jingle "Together in victory" sounded out.
Barak began by thanking the outgoing chairman. "I come before you today as head of the Labor Party in place of Amir Peretz, and I want to thank him for his leadership."
Flanked by Cabel and Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, Barak also paid tribute to Labor MKs, calling them the best political team in the country.
"I intend to lead together with the wonderful team we have, together with Ami [Ayalon] and other Labor members," he said.
He addressed the divisions that he said were harming the party and the country.
"We will seek that which binds us together out of a sense of mission and basic responsibility to the existence of Israeli society and the security of the state," Barak said. He added that he would devote all his energies to strengthening the army and the security establishment.
Barak pledged a return to "reasonable and responsible leadership," and to work to restore the public's faith in government.
"Today is the start of the journey of repair, because there is no [effective] government without public faith," he said.
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he was certain Barak was already looking to prepare the party for national elections.
Speaking to reporters after Barak's speech, Herzog said, "This is a change for Israeli politics. It marks the recovery of the Labor Party, restores it to its place as a powerful coalition partner and puts it in a position to eventually lead the country."
He said it was a good sign that Barak won a majority of the vote in so many of the party's sectors - among Arabs, Druse, the kibbutzim and the moshavim, as well as in cities throughout the country.