The man who once boasted that he could win the Labor leadership "by fax" tried to do just that on Sunday when Ehud Barak announced in a letter sent to Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel that he intends to seek the Labor leadership. The fax, which was followed by a short beeper message to political reporters, was intended to set the tone for the Barak campaign: quiet, modest and apologetic. In the letter to Cabel, Barak emphasized that he believed the contest was for defense minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet, a message he hopes will be the focus of the race. "I apparently reached the premiership too early," Barak wrote. "I made mistakes, and my lack of political experience was an obstacle for me.
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"Today, I know that there are no shortcuts, especially in public life and that leadership must be a team effort and not the task of one man."
Sources in the Barak campaign said he would meet as many Labor members as possible ahead of the May 28 Labor primary to personally deliver that message. They said he would tour the country but he would continue to avoid the press as he has over the past several months.
Barak's behind the scenes work has paid off in recent days as former adversaries have endorsed him, including former top Labor Party officials Shimon Sheves, Moshe Shahal and Avraham Burg.
Barak's rivals countered that he had learned nothing and that he was still the self-centered soloist who brought Labor to bankruptcy and its political nadir before leaving politics for a lucrative career as an international business consultant.
"The reality in which Israel finds itself requires everyone to work on behalf of the country and not just make money for himself," said MK Ami Ayalon, the front-runner in the polls.
"Barak's candidacy will give Labor members and the people of Israel a clear choice between returning to the way of the past that we already know and the different politics of credibility, honesty and responsibility."
A source in Ayalon's campaign said he would attempt to differentiate himself from "the old politics of Olmert-Barak-Netanyahu" and remind voters that the race was not just for Labor chairman and defense minister but for Labor's likely prime ministerial candidate.
Responding to charges that he lacked political experience, Ayalon told Army Radio that "we see that with experienced people like Ehud Olmert, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Ehud Barak, we are not in the place where we wanted to be when we gave them power."
MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who trails Ayalon and Barak in the race, called upon Barak to endorse him. He said the contest was for Labor chairman and not for defense minister and that if he won, he would let Barak be defense minister while he concentrated on rehabilitating the party.
Former Labor ministers Ora Namir, Micha Harish and Gad Yaakobi endorsed Paz-Pines on Sunday, while former Labor secretary-general Nisim Zvili and MK Avishay Braverman endorsed Ayalon. MK Danny Yatom, who is running last in the race, said he would remain in the race and would not endorse his longtime confidant Barak.
Peretz's spokesman denied reports he was considering leaving the Defense portfolio in order to bypass Barak's effort to focus the race on the issue of who would hold the post.
A Labor activist loyal to Peretz started an anti-Barak campaign on Sunday, warning of the dangers of electing a man whom he accused of running away from Lebanon, from important decisions and even from his ex-wife, Nava.
Another Labor activist, Shlomo Gilboa, started a petition drive to try to pressure Peretz to leave the Defense Ministry. Gilboa, who said he did not back any Labor candidate, is financing an effort to call one million households and ask them to sign an on-line petition against Peretz and to join Labor to vote against him. More than 2000 people had signed the petition by late Sunday and hundreds had joined Labor under Gilboa's auspices.