Labor MKs seeking generals

Laborite to gain most from war-inspired nostalgia is Ehud Barak.

ehud barak face298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
ehud barak face298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
After Israel's experience fighting a war with a civilian prime minister and defense minister in Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, Labor MKs and activists have started talking about the need to return to the generals that have led the party in the past. Former generals and admirals like National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and MKs Matan Vilna'i, Ami Ayalon and Danny Yatom have all either run for Labor leader in the past or have started working on the next Labor primary, which would be held in May unless a party committee that will not meet until October decides to delay it. But the one Laborite who would stand to gain the most from a war-inspired nostalgia for former generals is former prime minister Ehud Barak, the man who withdrew Israel's forces from Lebanon unilaterally six years ago and withdrew himself from party politics unilaterally several months later after losing the premiership. Barak made a point of remaining silent in Israel during the war, speaking only to the foreign press. But he has meanwhile been meeting with Labor ministers and MKs to maintain ties that could help him in a run against Peretz. "Those who said they wanted a socioeconomic party leader and not a security man saw when they got one that Israel paid a heavy price," said former MK Weizmann Shiri, a Barak loyalist. "It is possible to be socially conscious and yet know how to read a map and understand intelligence information. Now that it's been proven that Israel is not yet Switzerland, Israel has to start preparing for the next war by electing qualified people." Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, who is also a Barak confidant, heads the Labor committee that is to decide when the Labor primary will be. Before the war, Simhon wanted the election delayed, but now some Barak loyalists are saying the primary should be held as soon as possible to allow Barak to take advantage of the blow the war caused Peretz. Shiri, however, said he was in no hurry to hold the primary, because he wanted to allow time for Peretz to "make more mistakes." Labor MK Yoram Marciano, who is loyal to Peretz, said the party should not be dealing with internal rivalries and should not hold its primary any time soon. "The party has a chairman in Amir Peretz and, with all due respect to the generals, at this point we should talk of unity instead of fighting amongst ourselves," he said. "We should care about the country and not about our personal egos. I have been around party branches and I haven't heard anyone talking about wanting the generals in charge again." A key Labor activist who supports Peretz said that if Barak tried to make a comeback people would question his withdrawal from Lebanon. He said that any desire for a general to lead the party would not apply to Barak because of his own mistakes in Lebanon. "Barak got us into this mess and he is part of the reason for the war in the first place," the activist said. "He gave Hizbullah free rein to amass the weapons that threatened Israel. People just don't want him and he doesn't realize that." The activist said Barak hurt his chances by not returning to the Knesset like Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, who has used parliamentary work to repair his image. "He could have tried to rehabilitate his reputation and remove the blemishes from his past like Bibi did, but instead he stayed on the sidelines making money," the activist said.•