MANY LEFT IN SHOCK
Barak, served as Defense Minister for over seven years in several governments, including the one in which he was Prime Minister.
The announcement was unexpected and left many in shock. Since his days as leader of the Labor Party when he also served as Prime Minster, Barak had a rocky political career. During the 2009 elections he led Labor into the Knesset with only 13 seats, the smallest representation this once powerful party ever had. He lost the leadership position of the party in 2011 when he and four Labor MKs created a break away party in order to team up with the Likud governing coalition. This was a fatal mistake.
In recent months, polls indicated that his tiny party would not even pass the threshold in the coming elections and would be obliterated. He desperately tried to hook up with a number of smaller parties, but was unable to negotiate a position satisfactory to his liking. Ironically, last week’s Gaza operation represented a glimmer of hope for him, as his poll numbers inched closer to the point that he may have been admitted to the next Knesset.
Apparently, the ever clever, master planner and tactician, Barak knew that such popularity is fleeting and that he was headed for an electoral disaster. Rather than be thrown out, he quit.
Barak who is married with three children gave a totally different reason for so suddenly leaving the political arena.
“My decision to resign stems from my desire to dedicate more time to my family,” he said, adding that his passion never lay in politics.
“I have exhausted my contribution to politics, which I was never entirely passionate about, and I feel that I must make way for others to man senior political positions,” he said. “Turnover in positions of power is a good thing.”
Barak’s political success has been tarnished for the past few years.
He started off as a military hero. Born in kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon in 1942, Barak joined the IDF in 1959 and served there with distinction for 35 years, eventually becoming Chief of the IDF General Staff. On his way to the top he distinguished himself by leading the rescue mission to free hostages on a Sabena plane at Lod Airport in 1972, disguising himself as a woman to assassinate PLO murderers in 1973, and as one of the key architects of Operation Entebbe in 1976.
He also served as head of Aman (the Military Intelligence Directorate) between 1983 and 1985, then as head of Central Command, and finally as Chief of the General Staff between 1991 and 1995. During this last period he had a part in implementing the Oslo Accords and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
For all this he was awarded five decorations, making him one of the two most decorated soldiers in Israeli history.
In 1995, Barak began a successful political career as Minister of Internal Affairs in Yitzchak Rabin’s Labor government and became head of the Labor Party in 1996. After defeating Netanyahu by a large margin in 1999, he did a number of things that incensed many Israelis. He withdrew the Israeli army from Southern Lebanon in 2000, creating a vacuum which was quickly filled by the Hezbollah and appointed the Tal Committee to deal with the issue of chareidi army deferment, which is still a hot and divisive issue.
In addition, during his tenure as prime minister, Barak tried hard to create a Palestinian state, stating that, “Every attempt [by the State of Israel] to keep hold of this area [the West Bank and Gaza] as one political entity, leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic or a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a bi-national state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state.” But his 2000 Camp David talks with the Palestinians were a dismal failure followed by the eruption of the second Intifada. At that time he famously stated in a public speech that peace agreements with Palestinians were “on the premise that we have a partner for peace.”
“Today, the picture that is emerging, is that there is apparently no partner for peace,” he wisely pointed out.
Many people are still having trouble digesting this truth.
He became increasingly unpopular with secular voters when he reneged on his previous promises and yielded to religious parties’ pressure in the “turbine affair” – a dispute over the transport of a huge turbine of the Israel’s electric company on Shabbos.
In the 2001 election Barak was defeated by Arik Sharon. Voters became disgruntled over his retreat from Lebanon, his peace overtures to the Palestinians, and because of the turbine episode.
Barak then resigned from the Knesset for four years and rejoined the Labor party in 2005.
During the 2009 elections he led Labor into the Knesset with only 13 seats. Initially, Barak and other Labor officials declared they would not join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. But apparently, Barak found it difficult to be on the losing side. Barak relented and joined the coalition. Labor threatened to force him to leave the party. Instead, in 2011 he he left Labor with four MKs and created the Independence party, which remained with Netanyahu.
The nine remaining members of Labor were shocked and condemned the move. Eitan Cabel said it would “destroy the party.” Shelly Yachimovich, who was elected head of Labor after the split, called it “a corrupt and opportunistic move, designed to save Barak’s seat in the government. He has brought a catastrophe upon Labor.”Almost ever since, his tiny party has wavered on the verge of extinction. All these factors contributed to his resigning from political life on Monday.
“Today I am here to tell you that I am leaving political life,” he said in a brief press conference on Monday. “I have made this decision not without hesitation but full heartedly. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the warm response I received lately from the press and public.”
“During these years, I led a systematic rehabilitation, bolstering the long arm and dealing with the Iranian threat, pushing Iron Dome and the other anti-missile interceptors and ensuring a deep diplomatic and military cooperation with the Americans.”
And with that he was gone.
Martin van Creveld, Hebrew University military history emeritus professor, speaking about Ehud Barak, said that, “He started taking Israel on the road that ultimately transformed it from a force that was designed to fight large-scale conventional warfare into a force that specialized in antiterrorism operations of every kind. As a military commander he was regarded as someone who always backed up his men to the hilt, but as a politician he was rather heartless. He was the kind who would strip you of your socks without taking off your shoes first.”
Rightists applauded his resignation. They were angered by his leftist directing of Israel’s defense policies, which included expelling Jewish families from illegal West Bank outposts and blocking plans for building new homes in established West Bank communities.
Danny Danon (Likud) summed up the general sentiment with the statement, “Baruch Hashem we are rid of him.”
Minister Yuli Edelstein of Likud said much the same.
“Today is Independence Day for the Likud,” he said. “Barak will be recorded in the history of the Israeli settlement enterprise as the worst minister of defense the country ever had. His conduct was rife with political and egotistical considerations and all this at the expense of the settlers. This applied to the second disengagement plan he had in mind, the damage he inflicted on the growth of settlements, his expulsions policy, his demolition orders and mor..”
Other politicians cynically suspected that Barak’s leftist behavior may have been a cover up for Netanyahu.
“Now Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman will be able to approve all the construction plans for Judea and Samaria that had gotten bogged down on Barak’s desk,” said leaders of the Strong Israel party. “Or, alternately, it may emerge that Barak was only a fig leaf and that it was the prime minister himself who was responsible for the mistreatment of the settlers.”
More moderate Leftists expressed disappointment at his decision to leave politics. Tzipi Livni said she hoped he would yet contribute to his vision of a Jewish, democratic state living peacefully with its neighbors and Labor Chairman Shelly Yachimovich expressed appreciation of his accomplishments.
“Barak is the world’s most decorated soldier, and one of the most highly regarded defense figures in the international community,” said Yachimovich. “He contributed to the IDF and to the security of the country more than the public will ever know.”
But more extreme leftists accused him of helping the right achieve its goals.
“Barak played a dual role in the political system,” said Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On. “I commended him as the one who normally blocked extreme policies, but sometimes he was the one who spearheaded extreme moves and pushed them forward.”
“There is something symbolic about the fact that Barak, the man who invented the ‘no partner’ spin, the man who disappointed and failed to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians, who didn’t end the occupation the way we expected him to, is resigning precisely in the same week his ‘partner’ [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas extends a hand to peace with Israel and seeks recognition of the PA as a state,” she added. “Now Barak is gone, just when he gets a chance to rectify the historic damage he caused.”
Barak’s loss of popularity is the result of many disappointments. After leading his party into defeat, almost creating a Palestinian state at Camp David in 2000, and breaking an agreement to join Netanyahu’s coalition in 2011, people became exasperated and angry. The past catches up with a person. His loss shows that people remember one’s misdeeds and that it pays to be honest and upright.
Israel’s parties are consumed with the unenviable job of choosing lists of candidates for the Knesset ballot. In Israel, people vote for a party, not a person. The more votes the party gets the more of its candidates get into the Knesset. The jockeying to be in a realistic position to become a member of the next Knesset is bitter and fierce. Last week was the National Union Party’s turn. This Sunday was the turn of Likud whose 125,351 party members voted to decide which of its 97 candidates will receive 24-25 Knesset seats. Included in the Likud list are five “refugees” from Shaul Mofaz’s crumbled Kadima party who joined Likud.
Initially, some candidates petitioned the party court to delay the vote until Thursday. They claimed that the hostilities of the previous week prevented them making contact with potential voters due to Likud’s outlawing election gatherings during the war. Some candidates had cheated and not followed orders. Should those who obeyed suffer? The court turned down their petition and the Likud primaries proceeded as planned.
These primaries were the most significant of the elections. Likud Beiteinu, the merger of the Likud party and that of Foreign Minister Lieberman’s Yisroel Beiteinu, is leading the polls with a projected 37 seats and will probably head the next government. It is expected that together with other right leaning parties Likud Beiteinu may get a solid majority of 70 out of 120 seats even without the contribution of Shas or United Torah Judaism. This situation reflects the fact that Israel’s public has become disenchanted with the land for peace concept since realizing that in exchange for land Israel has given up, all they have received from the Arabs are missiles, rocks, and bullets.
Inside the Likud, a violent controversy is raging. Likud’s members range from moderates championed by Netanyahu, to strong nationalists headed by Moshe Feiglin who commands the allegiance of about 25% of the party — despite Netanyahu’s efforts to get rid of him. The rightists are eager for the government to become more proactive in the West Bank and in adopting the recommendations of the Levy Report, which claims to prove that Jews have a legal right to live and build anywhere in the West Bank.
There were those who wanted it made crystal clear which members of the Likud stuck to the original rightist ideals of its founders. Ahead of the primaries, they released lists showing which Likud members can be relied on by rightists such as those who fought against the risky disengagement from Gaza. In this battle, even Sunday’s inclement weather had Netanyahu worried as Feiglin’s cohesive group would be more likely to brave the elements than the more laid-back mass of the party.
There are the even more extreme far right parties who think that Likud is weak and unreliable. Chairman of the rightist National Unity party, Yaakov “Katzele” Katz, took the opportunity to advise right-leaning Likudniks to abandon their party altogether.
“Even the ‘best’ members of the Likud were unable to prevent the destruction of Gush Katif, and neither could they prevent the building freeze in Judea and Samaria..,” he stated. “And worst of all, they could not prevent the demolishing of hundreds of buildings and the prevention of construction of hundreds more by the Likud government.”
“The only solution,” he stated, “is to support the two sister parties, the National Union and Bayit Yehudi under the leadership of Naftali Bennett. This list must be able to produce 14 mandates, in order to be a main pillar of the next government and a senior coalition partner that will be a moral and nationalistic anchor for the government.”
Some of Likud’s inner battles are fought not with ideals and ideas but with influence and cold cash. MK Chaim Katz, whom some call the most powerful man in the Likud, has gained much of his power through his position as head of the Israel Air Industries (IAI) union which brings 10,000 of its members to automatically support him. In fact, the chairman of the Central Election Committee just complained that his use of the Air Industries resources for the primaries is illegal.
To ensure oneself a place in the Knesset, it helps to have someone like Katz as one’s patron and be availed of his automatic votes. Netanyahu’s smile is also worth about 10,000 votes, and the support of smaller luminaries in the party can add one or two thousand extra votes to one’s arsenal.
The mixed bag of the Likud party also includes the chareidi MK Tziyon Pinian who is close to Shas. He may be replaced by engineer Meir Malka, who has gained the support of Chaim Katz.
Unknown to many, a surprising number of Torah Jews support and vote for the Likud. On Sunday, large numbers of black hats and kipos at the Yerushalayim voting venue indicated growing support for Likud from the Torah community. Apparently, some of its members think that much can be achieved for the Torah world by battling from within one of Israel’s most powerful parties. This urgent issue must be addressed by the Torah parties if they want their power in Knesset to grow in tandem with the growing Torah population.
BUGGED BY THE SYSTEM
On Likud’s primaries day, voting was hampered by colossal computer problems. 80 voting stations broke down in Yerushalayim and a polling station in Tel Aviv completely stopped working. There were also malfunctions in Ramat Gan, Ashdod, GanYavne and HarChevron Regional Council. Thousands of voters waited in long lines or simply gave up and went home, moving Education Minister Gideon Sa’arto suggest, “Stop the elections now and hold them on a new date to be determined.”
By 10:00 p.m. when voting was supposed to end, only 56,684 voters, constituting about 46% of eligible members had voted and the elections committee decided to extend the voting for another two hours until midnight. The Likud’s legal advisor decided that this too was inadequate and voting continued on Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
There were similar glitches when Likud experimented with computerized voting the first time four years ago. Even Netanyahu needed to be shown how the newfangled system worked. Many old timers long for the good old days when all you had to do was mark a sheet of paper and drop it into a box.
LIKUD PRIMARY RESULTS
The final results of Likud’s primaries on Monday night, made it obvious that the party has continued its trend of moving to the right.
Dan Meridor, regarded as the most left leaning member of Likud didn’t make the list altogether. Instead, Moshe Feiglin, the religious rightist who has been kept out the Knesset for years through legal finagling, finally made it, in the 14th spot. Feiglin feels that he got in by speaking with more restraint.
“I changed my style but not my values,” he said. “The journey I began when I said that this is our land will continue now from inside the parliament. My values have gone into the Likud through the front door, enabling us to defend Israel from its enemies and make it into a state of Jewish freedom.”
Most Likud nominees fiercely oppose a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict. In fact, besides Netanyahu, the only proponent of the idea is MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen who is number 20 on the list.
Gideon Sa’ar, who came in first behind the prime minister, summed up the new situation by saying that the list reflected the changing face of Israel society.
“Those who think the list is hawkish and that most of the public is with the left are not being realistic,” he said.
Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz boasted that the party he once belonged to, “has now lost its way and been swayed to the extreme margins of the political map.” In a similar vein Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said the liberal Likud has lost its soul, while Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich said that Likud voters concerned for socio-economic issues should move over to her party instead.
A more rightist party may be good for Likud. Contrary to the previous elections when Netanyahu’s major competitor was the centrist Kadima, his strongest rivals now are parties more to the right. A more rightist Likud means that they will be less likely to siphon off potential voters from Likud. If Netanayahu wins, the more rightist MKs will give him the backbone to take a tougher stand against the Iranian nuclear weapons and against the Palestinians who have stalled peace talks since 2010.
Netanyahu suffered a personal defeat when a number of his personal favorites did not make the list at all or failed to make the top ten. Perhaps that is why he didn’t say all that much about the outcome, merely making the obvious remark that, “Those elected to the Knesset seats are the national team,” thanking those who lost, and vowing to remain loyal to the “values of Jabotinsky.”
Unlike Netanyahu, his partner Avigdor Lieberman will have the final say on the composition of his party’s list.
Wheeling and dealing behind the scenes helped some MKs, but not all. Even Chaim Katz did not make the list’s top ten.
LIVNI BACK IN THE RUNNING
On Tuesday, after months of hesitation, former foreign minister and opposition leader Tzipi Livni finally announced her participation in the coming elections.
“It was difficult for me to return to politics,” she explained at a press conference in Tel Aviv. “I came to fight for our shared vision; to fight for peace. I will not lend a hand to those who are trying to turn the word ‘peace’ into a bad word. I came to fight for a Jewish Israel, for democratic Israel. I came to fight against social gaps.”
“When my son, today an IDF officer, went to Gaza a week ago, I texted him to say that I will fight in the political arena so that he won’t have to fight on the battleground,” she added. “… After four years of arrogance, the painful price of Israel’s policies has come to light. Thanks to these policies, the state that refused to say the words ‘two states’ now has to deal with two Palestinian states: one at the U.N. this week and a Hamas state in Gaza. Israel deserves better.”
Just as Netanyahu’s primaries had not come out the way he wanted, so too, she argued, he could lose in the elections.
Livni ignored the extended invitations from other parties and is creating a party of her own generically titled Hatenu’ah, The Movement of Tzipi Livni.
“I didn’t return to politics to be in this or that party,” she explained. “My return was motivated by a void that has emerged. When I thought that Olmert might run, I was relieved, because I thought he would pose a viable alternative to the prime minister. Ultimately, I stepped in because the political arena remained empty.”
The politicians she spurned were not slow to react. Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich who had invited her to her party insisted she was making a great mistake by creating a new party to collect the flotsam MKs of existing parties.
“Tzipi Livni, who is a worthy woman and politician, is making a terrible mistake,” she said in a statement. “She is establishing a party of double refugees and giving Netanyahu and [Avigdor] Lieberman a reason to smile. Instead of focusing on their [Likud-Beiteinu] ultra-extreme Knesset list, now we’re focusing on the fact that there is another little party in the Center. Anyone who believes that Israel should have a fair economy and just society, protect democracy and the rule of law and be able to promote a diplomatic [peace] process should unite behind the leadership of Shelly Yachimovich, who is leading the Center bloc with confidence and stability. Next week, the Labor Party will present an economic-social plan that, when implemented, will give Israeli citizens better, more decent lives.”
Yair Lapid who had invited her to join his Yesh Atid party claimed she was acting out of egotism. A Likud member reacted by attacking her Palestinian policies, saying that, “Tzipi Livni supported the disengagement and brought Hamas to Gaza, now she is working vigorously to bring Hamas to Yehuda and Shomron.”
Livni’s old party, Kadima, doubted she would achieve much in her new venture.
“Kadima wishes Tzipi Livni success in her new endeavor,” the party announced, “but wonders what she will manage to achieve with only a few (Knesset) seats that she didn’t manage to achieve with the 28 seats (Kadima had) over four years. This is not a politically wise move. Instead of uniting the center-left bloc, Livni decided to split it.”
The fast declining Kadima party has the most to lose from Livni’s attempted comeback. Several of its MKs are expected to move over to Livni as soon as this week. One party official says that 14 have already asked to join her and the decision whom she wants is hers. She may also add some high profile public figures to her ranks.
But how exactly she intends to bring unity and power to the Center-Left ranks still remains unclear. What they share in common is their cheap opportunism, hopping from one party to the next, hoping to land in the one that will still be viable come Election Day.