Ehud Barak – The political illusion of the Zionist Left

Of all the leading politicians in the center-left bloc, there is no doubt that Barak, who served as chief of staff, as prime minister and as defense minister, is the most experienced.

By ORI WERTMAN
July 30, 2019 01:24
Ehud Barak.

Ehud Barak.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

After a six-year political break, former prime minister Ehud Barak decided to return to the political arena and announced the establishment of a center-left party, the Israel Democratic Party, which will run in the upcoming Knesset elections in September.

Of all the leading politicians in the center-left bloc, there is no doubt that Barak, who served as chief of staff (1991-1995), as prime minister (1999-2001), and as defense minister (2007-2013), is the most experienced and senior candidate.

During his tenure as prime minister, Barak showed political courage when he tried to reach a permanent-status agreement with the Palestinians, endangering his political standing when he did not refrain from discussing the core issues in negotiations with the Palestinians, especially regarding Jerusalem and the refugees.

In addition, during his tenure as defense minister, alongside the rehabilitation of the IDF after the Second Lebanon War, Barak faced important challenges, including the reported destruction of the nuclear reactor in Syria, and two military operations in the Gaza Strip against Hamas.

Barak’s political career has had its ups and downs. Shortly after his term as IDF chief of staff, he was appointed interior minister in 1995 by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. After Rabin’s assassination, Barak was promoted to foreign minister in the government of Shimon Peres, and was marked as the next leader of the Labor Party. After Peres retired from the position of chairman, Barak won without difficulty in the elections for Labor Party chairman in 1997 – and only two years later, after four years in Israeli politics, he defeated Netanyahu in the 1999 elections and became prime minister of Israel.

Yet, after serving less than two years as prime minister, following the failure of the peace process with the Palestinians and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Barak was defeated in the 2001 elections by Ariel Sharon and decided to quit politics.

However, following the public criticism of the functioning of the Israeli leadership during the Second Lebanon War, Barak exploited the decline in the political prestige of Labor chairman and defense minister Amir Peretz, and won the 2007 Labor Party elections. He was then appointed as defense minister in Ehud Olmert’s government.

Despite his hopes of leading the center-left bloc in the 2009 elections, it was Tzipi Livni and the Kadima Party that led the bloc and won 28 Knesset seats, while the Labor Party, headed by Barak, won only 13 seats. After the failure of the elections, despite his commitment to go to the opposition, Barak made a U-turn and led Labor to join the Netanyahu government, in which he remained the defense minister.

At the beginning of 2011, however – following Labor’s internal criticism of being part of Netanyahu’s government – Barak, who wished to continue serving as defense minister, left the Labor Party with four other Knesset members and established a new faction in the Knesset called Independence. He had hoped that the new party would succeed in gaining a foothold in the Israeli political system. However, shortly before the 2013 elections, after realizing that the Independence Party’s chances of entering the Knesset were slim, Barak decided to withdraw again from the political system.

IN THE past two years, with the support of the Israeli media that gave him a platform, Barak has become Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main critic. Thus, there was an illusion that Barak was about to lead the center-left bloc to a victory in the elections against Netanyahu.
In practice, however, even though Barak is undoubtedly the most senior security figure in Israeli politics, he does not have the support of the Israeli public from all corners of the political spectrum.

On the one hand, Barak has been criticized by the political Right for his extreme concessions to Arafat in the peace negotiations: concessions that, according to right-wing politicians, only increased Palestinian terrorism and violence.

On the other hand, Barak receives much criticism from the Left for having missed a historic opportunity for peace with the Palestinians, and for taking harsh measures against the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs at the beginning of the Second Intifada.

Eventually, Barak’s entry into the political arena only caused him enormous political damage. Although he hoped that his new party would be able to attract many votes from the center-left bloc, polls showed that it was oscillating around the electoral threshold.

As a result, in order to unite with Meretz and Stav Shaffir, Barak was forced to agree to humiliating terms, which included 10th place on the united list, as well as a public apology to Israeli Arabs, an apology Barak has refrained from making for two decades. While the first condition is a humiliation for the most worthy and experienced man in the center-left bloc, the second condition is in fact an absolute capitulation to those who called for the destruction of the State of Israel at the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

Despite the fact that according to Barak’s agreement with the leadership of the Left, he will be the first to assume the post of government minister, the prospect of a center-left government being formed – one that the Democratic Union will agree to join – is almost impossible.

In conclusion, Barak’s reentry into the political system has left him insulted and humiliated. In addition, his return did not lead to any change in the balance of power between the blocs since, according to recent polls, the center-left bloc, even including the Arab parties, does not win a majority of 61 seats.

It is a pity that a man as experienced and worthy as Ehud Barak – who served as prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff, and is the most decorated soldier in the IDF – could end his political career in such a humiliating manner.

The writer, a PhD candidate and research assistant at the University of South Wales, was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog; was a former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth; and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.


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