Only new Jewish Home leader bucks predictable party positions in comments on Barak’s departure

Only new Jewish Home leader bucks predictable party positions in comments on Barak’s departure

Naftali Bennett says many Israelis owe their lives to Barak, as defense minister's announcement draws otherwise expected praise and criticism from a range of political -- and terror -- leaders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 14, 2012. (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 14, 2012. (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)

Political figures from across the spectrum weighed in on the surprise announcement of Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation from political life Monday, with responses of “thanks” and “thanks for nothing” hewing closely to ideological lines. Only the new leader of the rightist Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, departed from predictable party lines to heap praise on Barak.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he “respects” Barak’s decision to retire. Netanyahu thanked Barak for his “cooperation in the government, and his greatly esteemed contributions over many years to the security of the state,” according to a statement published by his office.

Barak, who has served as defense minister for the last five years, first under the centrist government of Ehud Olmert and currently under Netanyahu’s more hawkish rule, was seen as a security expert and dovish stalwart who slowly drifted rightward.

Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich wished Barak success in his new life and expressed regret at his retiring from politics, which is to take effect when the next government is formed after January’s elections. She called Barak “the most decorated soldier in the world, one of the most highly regarded [in the realm of] international security and [someone] who contributed to the army and state security more than the public will ever know. He brought his vast experience to the Defense Ministry, where he used good judgment and professionalism.”

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, also new, issued a statement thanking Barak for his “many years in civil service, security and defense.”

Barak’s fellow Independence party MK Einat Wilf praised his “tremendous contribution to the security of the state of Israel,” adding that despite his departure from political life, “I have no doubt that Barak will continue to contribute substantially to Israel’s foreign policy and security strategy.”

Right wingers, however, took the opportunity to lambaste Barak for his left-wing policies as prime minister and defense minister.

“Good riddance,” said new far-right party Otzma Leyisrael (Power to Israel), headed by MK Michael Ben Ari, in a statement. “Now Netanyahu and Liberman will approve all construction projects in the West Bank… or prove that Barak was just a fig leaf, and the prime minister is responsible for the harassment of the settlers.”

Minister Yuli Edelstein said that Barak would be remembered in Israel as the “worst” defense minister in regards to the settlements.

“Today is Likud’s independence day,” the Likud minister said  “His conduct was one of continuous political and egotistical schemes, and all at the expense of the settlements.”

National Union MK Uri Ariel added that “Barak’s resignation from politics is a blessing for the settlement enterprise… Barak worked constantly and unjustly against settlers and the settlements.”

Hawkish National Union chairman MK Yaakov Katz said that it was “unnatural” for Barak to be in the same government as his party, and predicted that the joint list of National Union and Jewish Home would gather 15 seats in the Knesset now that Barak was gone.

“Good riddance to this punishment,” said Likud MK Danny Danon. “After Barak understood that he will not receive a reserved spot on the Likud list, he faced up to his lack of relevance in the political arena and chose to retire from political life, rather than have the people do it for him.”

Danon, who is competing on Monday for a spot on Likud’s list, said he expects Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert to follow Barak’s example and not “embarrass themselves with another defeat.”

In contrast, Bennett, the incoming chairman of the right wing Jewish Home party, thanked Barak for his many years of service to the state of Israel. “Ehud Barak is a man of many merits and amazing contributions to the state. Many of us owe our lives to him,” he said.

On the far left, MK Dov Khenin, chairman of the Hadash party, welcomed the news of Barak’s imminent retirement. “I welcome the resignation of Barak, who made possible the existence of the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history,” he wrote on Twitter. “He will not be able to free himself from this heavy historical responsibility.”

MK Zahav Gal-on, head of the Meretz party, said that Barak “played a dual role” in the political system. She praised him as a “buffer against extreme measures,” but said that he sometimes was “actually the one who led them, pushed them.” She linked his resignation to the Palestinian UN bid for recognition this week, saying “there is something symbolic that Barak, the man who invented the spin that there is ‘no partner,’ the man who failed to sign an agreement with the Palestinians… resigns the same week that the partner extends to Israel a hand in peace and asks for its recognition… This is our chance to correct the historical damage Barak has done.”

Gaza-based terror organization Hamas also issued a statement through the Palestinian media, attributing Barak’s resignation to his “failure in the Gaza Strip” during the recent Israel-Hamas hostilities. Islamic Jihad, a Shiite group, said that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak left political life after his defeat in the war in the Gaza Strip.”

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