'Want me as defense minister? Vote Labor'

Ehud Barak says if he wins less than 20 mandates he will not be able to serve in his current role.

elections2009_248 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Labor Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday what he had refrained from saying before, all but admitting that he would not be the one to form the next government. "It is implied that Kadima and Likud are in a head-to-head race, but that is not important," Barak said on the final day of the campaign. "If Labor does not get 20 mandates or close to this goal, I will not be able to be the defense minister." Earlier in the campaign, Barak had spoken more frequently about the terms under which Labor would join a government led by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu or Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. But in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, seen by many to have been a relative success, Barak apparently feels he now has a proven track record - as defense minister. Lagging in the polls, Labor is counting on a sense of responsibility to guide its veteran members when they arrive at the voting booths on Tuesday. At party headquarters, campaign workers were busy on Monday explaining to voters and journalists why voting for Kadima would be a mistake. "A third of Kadima members are more than likely to go back to Likud the day after the elections, if Likud wins," they said. "Kadima sells the spin that it is back on top of things again, when this is not true at all." During the past months, dozens of volunteers at Labor's election headquarters in Tel Aviv have called no fewer than 400,000 people who had voted for Labor in the past 12 years. Ayelet Nahmias Verbin, Labor's director of communications, has worked in all of the party's campaigns since 1992, and says this was the oddest. "We spoke to people who were deliberating between voting for Barak and [Netanyahu], and even people who could not decide between Avigdor Lieberman [of Israel Beiteinu] and Meretz. It is not easy to convince people like these because they are deliberating between two completely different parties that have nothing in common," she said. "We heard what was preventing them from voting for Labor again, and we found people who thought that Labor should have left the current government long ago, and people who said that Barak was not nice and not a chum," Nahmias Verbin said. "These sorts of arguments are a result of images that are created... because, unlike in the past, when most of the campaigns were conducted in the streets, amid the citizens, this era is characterized by images that are created by the media." Nahmias Verbin said further that many people expressed their concerns regarding Lieberman and the fact that Barak had not ruled out cooperating with his party. "Barak said that Lieberman was not his cup of tea and that he doesn't accept his racist, undemocratic point of view - but it is not Barak's style to rule out people during a campaign," Nahmias Verbin added. "Nonetheless, people need to understand that the current elections are crucial, because the prime minister that will be elected will have to handle a rare combination of economic crisis and the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb." But Barak seemed cheerful on Monday. "You can't go wrong reading the sense of warmth and love I get from the people," he said during a Tu Bishvat tree-planting event in Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek. "People from all parties come to me and tell me that they want me to have the defense portfolio."