Labor MKs attack party leader Barak in foreign media

Ben-Simon, Wilf criticize flotilla op. Foreign Ministry: Their behavior is ‘reprehensible’.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
June 2, 2010 06:45
4 minute read.
Labor MKs attack party leader Barak in foreign media

Einat Wilf 248.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak came under fire from MKs in his own Labor Party on Monday and Tuesday over the raid on the Gaza flotilla, with Daniel Ben-Simon suggesting he should resign.

The criticism came in interviews with the foreign press, where Barak and Israel were already under fire from politicians and journalists around the world. Speaking to the French media, Ben-Simon accused Barak of behaving according to the laws of the jungle.

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“Barak’s approach of being the neighborhood bully is bankrupt,” Ben-Simon told The Jerusalem Post in statements similar to what he told the French media. “He has had a career on the battlefield that is full of mistakes, especially the October 2000 [response to the Israeli Arab uprising]. What those mistakes have in common is that he used too much force. If he can’t understand the predicament that he got us into, it would be smart of him to say, I made a mistake, I failed, and I am going home. This would be for the benefit of the public and himself.”

Ben-Simon said he was speaking on behalf of five MKs who had expressed similar sentiments in private conversations with him.

But a spokeswoman for Labor MK Amir Peretz, Barak’s longtime nemesis, said that as a former defense minister, he understood the challenges Barak faced and would not call for his resignation.

The defense minister also faced pressure in the Hebrew media. Yediot Aharonot ran a front-page analysis by veteran columnist Sever Plocker headlined “Barak, resign.”

“Barak’s resignation is necessary out of good governance, ministerial responsibility, leadership, and out of concern for Israel’s fate,” Plocker wrote. “It doesn’t matter how the decision was made to enter Hamas’s provocative trap or what alternatives were presented to the ministers who made the decision. What matters are the results, and the results prove that the defense minister clearly failed. There is no broom wide enough to sweep this under the rug.”

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, however, denounced calls for Barak’s resignation as nonsense. In an interview with Army Radio, he said that “there have been bigger debacles in the navy in the past without calls for resignations.”

In interviews with the foreign press, Labor MK Einat Wilf said Barak’s decision to send soldiers to board the ships had been a mistake. But she later insisted that she did not intend to criticize Barak in particular and that she was not calling for his resignation.

“We should not have sent them [the commandos] there,” Wilf told Sky News. “You do not send soldiers into a PR arena. It’s not their job. It’s not what they’re experienced in doing. They’re hurt. Civilians were killed. They should not have been there.” 

She told The New York Times that she had warned Barak and others well in advance that the flotilla was a public relations issue and should not be dealt with by military means.

“This had nothing to do with security,” she said. “The armaments for Hamas were not coming from this flotilla.”

Wilf said that she had gotten responses to her interviews that accused her of undermining Israel, and others that said she had defended the country very well. She said she had spoken to Barak, and he had not taken offense at what she said.

“When people have asked about Barak resigning or being responsible, I have said it’s not about an individual person, but about conceptions,” Wilf said. “If anything good can come out of this situation, it’s that we understand that the intellectual arena is as important as the military arena and that the threat to Israel in that arena is no less, but it requires different doctrine, different means and tools. When you are in a battle for ideas and symbols, soldiers are not your best tools.”

Wilf rejected suggestions that she should censor herself when speaking to the foreign press at such a sensitive time.

“There is only one arena in the world today,” she said. “The notion that there is local press and foreign press is wrong. Israel will never win the war of ideas and symbols if it does not speak the truth. I think we can win with the truth. The assumption that we cannot is one of the saddest assumptions that has set in over the last few years.”

But Foreign Ministry officials lashed out at Ben-Simon and Wilf in private conversations.

“It is reprehensible that at a time when we need to have a unified message to be heard around the world, there are those politicians who are taking potshots at members of the government for their own narrow political agenda,” a ministry official said.


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