Ex-Labor chief Barak declares ‘Independence’ in Tel Aviv

Defense minister officially inaugurates new political party, complaining about "opportunists and charlatans" in Israeli politics.

Independence faction 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Independence faction 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak completed the process of leaving the Labor Party he led until January when he officially formed the new Independence Party at its inaugural meeting at the Council for a Beautiful Israel Center in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
Speaking to the party’s founding 80 members, Barak complained that Israeli politics had deteriorated into “tricks and shticks” and was led by “too many opportunists and charlatans.”
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He vowed to change that with his new party, rejecting surveys indicating that it had no chance of passing the 2 percent electoral threshold in the next election.
“I have bad news and good news for you,” he told the crowd. “The bad news is that we are doing badly in the polls, but the good news is that we can only go up from here.”
Barak spoke in front of a wall bearing the party’s new blue, white and red logo that features the national flag and quotes from Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Barak was unanimously elected head of the party at the event, which was held on the Hebrew calendar anniversary of his withdrawal of IDF troops from Lebanon 11 years ago.
The party will hold its first rally in a month and a half. Until then, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i will try to woo former MKs and other well-known figures to the party.
Barak did not seem to miss his former political home. He mocked Labor, saying that “this is the first time that I feel I am in a party where the relations between the members are genuine and real.”
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon rejected criticism that Independence would be a dictatorship led by Barak, who according to the party’s bylaws will not have to face primaries or a central committee. The bylaws also permit the party chairman to sign to join a government and to sign coalition agreements without authorization.
“There is nothing wrong with allowing the leader of a party to run it,” Simhon told reporters. “That’s one of the reasons we left Labor.”
Simhon denied any intention of the new party merging with the Likud ahead of the next election. He predicted that MK Amir Peretz would win the September 12 Labor chairmanship primary and make Labor into Peretz’s former Am Ehad party, which won only three seats.
“I am emotional, and I don’t mean that cynically,” Simhon said in his speech to the crowd. “It wasn’t easy to leave my political home, but it stopped being a home. It stopped representing the values I grew up on and stopped serving the principles of Labor. The party forgot its way.”
The party’s bylaws do not indicate how its candidates for the next Knesset will be chosen, merely saying that its secretariat, which is made up of its current five MKs, will decide the method. But Barak said in his speech that Independence would make a point of fielding an equal number of men and women, listed zipper-style one after the other.
Barak’s brother, pollster Avinoam Brug, is expected to join the party and run on the list in the next election. But officials in the party denied that he had been promised the sixth slot after the five MKs.
The founding members voted to approve the new party’s platform that was written by the head of the Independence faction in the Knesset, MK Einat Wilf.
In her speech, Wilf took pride in having the shortest platform of any party and that because of its brevity she hoped that “unlike in other parties, people will actually read the platform.”
Labor leadership candidates and MKs declined to respond to the formation of the new party, deeming it too irrelevant for a response.
“What Barak and the other Independence ministers need to be doing now is to quit the government, because they are enabling the confrontation in September [at the UN over Palestinian statehood] that Barak himself warns about,” said Labor MK Isaac Herzog, a candidate for the Labor leadership.
Another candidate, former Labor chairman Amram Mitzna, held his first campaign rally on Thursday night in Haifa in which he vowed that under his leadership, Labor would never join a government with the Likud or Israel Beiteinu.
In his speech, Mitzna called for cutting the defense budget, said that everyone should serve in the army or perform national service, and insisted that “the path to peace has not closed.”