A key motive behind the protests has now been uncovered. The well-funded weekly demonstrations against the government, now dying down after 21 weeks, are not only about legal reform or achieving a balanced government structure. They are not about the gradual accumulation of power by the Supreme Court over the past three decades or the absence of a written constitution. They are not even about the representation of judges of Moroccan origin or the conservative versus activist judge ratio. No, it boils down to Barak: Ehud Barak.
Recent revelations have shed light on the hidden motives behind the protests, which were disguised as a grassroots movement against “dangerous, anti-democratic” judicial reform.
The Black Flags movement, established in 2019 and fully operational in 2020, had one goal: “Bring down Bibi” (Benjamin Netanyahu). Barak, the mastermind behind the movement, openly declared his intention to physically block Netanyahu if he secured 61 Knesset seats. This declaration was made in September 2019, upon anticipating upcoming elections and well before Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposed judicial reforms were presented in January 2023.
Jeffrey Epstein's relationship with Barak
As one of the prime ministers with the shortest term in office, Barak’s animosity toward Israel’s longest serving prime minister is no secret, but his vengeful motives require some explanation. In July 2019, a photograph and short story emerged in the British Daily Mail, revealing Barak’s visit to a Manhattan townhouse owned by his associate and business partner, Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein, a convicted sex offender, had a close relationship with Barak. According to Wall Street Journal reports, Barak had over 30 encounters with Epstein, even after his conviction, meeting him on Epstein’s private jet and elsewhere. According to Haaretz, Epstein funded Barak’s Black Flags movement through companies he controlled.
Part of the motive behind the Black Flags operation was possibly aimed to divert attention from Barak’s questionable connection with Epstein.
At any rate, Gilead Sher, a key protest leader and a long-time member of Barak’s inner circle, revealed part of the plot in a recent interview. Sher disclosed that the protests were planned and funded by Barak’s confidants immediately after the November 2022 election results and several weeks before the proposed judicial reform was announced. Again, the goal was to bring down Netanyahu.
WHILE MANY Israelis genuinely joined the protests out of fear fueled by media frenzy, their concerns were partially alleviated when the government and the opposition showed a willingness to engage in dialogue.
This raises the question: if a national debate is underway and the government is open to compromise, why continue protesting? The individuals leading and financing the protests are the same people who mobilized immediately after the election results. The goal: Bring down Netanyahu, regardless of the circumstances. Their refusal to accept the election results or engage in constructive dialogue undermines the democratic principles they claim to uphold.
As the lion’s share of the public now understands the need for judicial reform, there is a silent majority among the protesters who seek compromise but are reluctant to speak up due to the dominant narrative imposed by their extreme leaders. As the rhetoric of the protest escalated, it resorted to using classic antisemitic tropes against the ultra-Orthodox community, leading to a strong backlash from the majority of the public who reject the vilification of an entire sector of Israel’s Jewish population.
Realizing the negative impact of their tactics, the organizers and funders of the protest had to rethink their strategy and find new ways to maintain momentum.
The recent revelations regarding Barak and the protest movement underscore the importance of transparency and honesty in those who claim to represent the public’s interests and uphold democracy.
It is vital to approach the national debate on judicial reform with an open mind and engage in constructive dialogue, rather than allowing predetermined agendas to undermine the democratic process.
Now that the true origins of the protests have been revealed, it is time to move away from boycotting Netanyahu and instead, seek a compromise and consensus. Any alternative is unacceptable.
As for Barak, the former prime minister will probably be remembered as a decorated general, a failed statesman, and a disgruntled citizen with questionable morals and agendas.
The writer is a former head of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism office in Washington, and a senior analyst at Acumen Risk Ltd., a risk management firm.