Above the fold: Barak’s tactical mistake

An outright attack by an ex-prime minister against a sitting one, published in a US paper of record, is a call for international attention.

December 3, 2017 19:53
3 minute read.
Above the fold: Barak’s tactical mistake

Ehud Barak. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)


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Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a scathing op-ed by former prime minister Ehud Barak, a frontal assault against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

An outright attack by an ex-prime minister against a sitting one, published in the US paper of record, is a call for international attention. Barak did not submit his critique to The New York Jewish Week, the Jewish Press or The Jerusalem Post. He sent it to – and it was accepted by – the New York Times, the holy grail of the publishing world.

Barak is interested in ratcheting up his position as challenger to Netanyahu. He wants US Jewish leadership to know this and he wants the White House to know it as well. He is positioning himself as the contender.

The column’s byline describes Barak as having “served as Israel’s prime minister and defense minister and as the Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff.” What is missing from this bio is even more important than what is present. Yes, Barak was a former prime minister, but he was also the former foreign minister and more importantly the former head of the Labor Party.

The column was penned with one motive in mind – Barak is hoping to challenge Netanyahu and emerge as the clear and obvious candidate for the next prime minister of Israel, and an opinion piece in the New York Times is, for Barak, a major stepping stone toward attaining that goal.

In his column, the former prime minister attempts to alienate Netanyahu from his power base in the United States. Barak is out to leach some of Netanyahu’s most affluent and generous donors and community leaders, all of whom monitor The New York Times. Barak wanted them to open the op-ed page or click the opinion tab on their computer and “see the truth.” He is hoping to convince them to abandon Netanyahu.

Barak depicts a tragic, even pitiful, state of affairs in Israel. He asserts that Israel needs to be saved from itself. As if speaking to Israelis, but really speaking to American Jewry, this is how he lays out his argument:

“For anyone who cares about Israel, this is no time for niceties. What we need now is plain speaking, even pained speaking – and action. For all of Israel’s great achievements in its seven decades of statehood, our country now finds its very future, identity and security severely threatened by the whims and illusions of the ultranationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Barak lashes out at Netanyahu. He suggests that the prime minister and his government endanger Israel at every juncture. Netanyahu’s embrace of settlement messianists and the capitulation to religious extremists that led to his abandonment of Diaspora non-Orthodox Jewry are two of his examples.

He also subtly suggests that Netanyahu is the original Donald Trump template. From the Barak perspective, that alone is a slam dunk. There is nothing and no one that liberal America Jews revile more than Trump.

Barak wants American Jewish assistance in his mission. Netanyahu, he implies, is just like Trump – and see where that got Americans.
Barak concludes by hammering home his point.

“In the service of this agenda, Mr. Netanyahu elevated fake news, alternative facts and whataboutism into art forms in Hebrew, long before those terms gained any traction in English. His government jeopardizes Israel’s very future, while dividing and inciting us against each other and maligning those abroad who genuinely care about Israel. This must be stopped.”

From start to finish, the op-ed is a cheap shot. Certainly there is room for valid critique of the prime minister, but the former prime minister misread his crowd.

Diaspora leadership and contributions from Americans (within proper and lawful channels) are helpful for every prime minister. But as self-important as they may be, Diaspora Jewry holds no sway over the Israeli voting public. Israelis will determine the next Israeli prime minister, not Jewish American readers of the New York Times. And the time to court those Diaspora “machers” is once the election is won, not before it is even a contest.

For some puzzling reason, Barak has forgotten that Israelis know little and care even less about American Jewish leadership and their opinions and perspective.  They certainly do not want American Jewish involvement in Israeli politics or US donor dollars skewing Israeli political campaigns.

The author is a columnist and a social and political commentator.

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