Ben-Eliezer: Barak needs help or 'Labor's finished'

Channel 2 microphones catch conversation between the defense minister's ally and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon.

ben eliezer 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ben eliezer 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor chairman Ehud Barak received criticism from an unexpected source on Sunday when Channel 2's microphones caught a conversation between his closest allies, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon. Ben-Eliezer warned Simhon that Barak was harming himself by not hiring strategists to help him. He said he had suggested a list of noted strategists like Eyal Arad, Eyal Homski and Haim Assa, but Barak had turned it down. "If he wants to commit suicide, he can commit suicide," Ben-Eliezer said. "If he continues this way, [Labor] is finished." A Dahaf Institute poll published in Yediot Aharonot Friday found that Barak was lagging far behind Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and "none of the above" in the eyes of the public as a fitting candidate for prime minister. Ben-Eliezer also relayed Olmert's complaints about Barak's insubordination. He said Olmert hosted Barak for weekly lunches in order to improve their relationship, but Barak responded with behavior that was "crazy." A spokesman for Ben-Eliezer said he'd said the same things to Barak's face and did not need Channel 2 to relay the messages. He said Ben-Eliezer believed in Barak, despite his "constructive criticism." Ben-Eliezer was not the only Barak confidant who damaged him politically on Sunday. Attorney Eldad Yaniv, who until recently was the closest man to Barak, quit the party on Sunday. Yaniv ran Barak's successful campaign for the Labor leadership, but Barak fired him a few months later in a dispute over how the party should be run. Yaniv, who served as Labor's legal adviser for several years, blasted Barak in a radio interview last week, saying that his behavior was unbecoming of a former prime minister and IDF chief of General Staff. In a further blow to Barak on Sunday, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that Labor must elect new institutions by the end of June. Barak's predecessor, MK Amir Peretz, appealed to the court after Barak refused to implement the decisions of Labor's internal legal bodies to initiate the election. Peretz hopes to use the new Labor institutions to gain more power in the party and use it to try to oust Barak ahead of the next general election. Barak's spokesman declined to comment on any of the three developments. Meanwhile, Channel 1 reported that Barak said in a meeting with bereaved families on Sunday that he still thought Olmert had to quit due to his handling of the Second Lebanon War. When the families asked Barak when he would keep his promise to quit Olmert's government, he said "soon," adding that the timing depended on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.