Amid comeback talk, Ehud Barak sees ‘historic possibility’ to replace Netanyahu

Former premier says it’s time for leadership of ‘vision and hope’ to replace current ‘dark, nationalist government’

Former prime minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv, on December 22, 2017. (Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv, on December 22, 2017. (Flash90)

In cryptic comments possibly signaling plans for a political comeback, former prime minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday there was a “real, historic possibility” to replace the “dark, nationalist government” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with one that promises hope and vision.

Speaking at Tel Aviv’s Katedra lecture center, Barak said: “There exists a very real, historic possibility of establishing an alternative leadership — strong, united, sober, and fearless, one that will bring vision, hope, and capability.”

He did not go into further detail as to who that leadership may include.

Barak, 76, who served as Netanyahu’s defense minister between 2009-2013, has over the past year become an outspoken critic of Netanyahu, with many believing he may be setting the stage for a return to politics.

In his speech Tuesday, he said the Netanyahu government had in recent years built a political platform based on “a deep fear of ‘foreigners,’ ‘gentiles,’ and ‘enemies’ from without, and ‘traitors’ and ‘collaborators’ from within.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak attend a press conference at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, November 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

That government, he said, was busy “setting Israelis against each other and sowing the seeds of hatred of foreigners, weak populations, and minorities.

“The dark nationalist government that leads us today does not join those countries [in Europe] who champion the values of freedom, progress, and equality,” he said, “but rather joins Europe’s centers of dark nationalism — Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and of course Poland.”

“For that last one, the prime minister was willing to polish off the crimes of the past, even at the cost of betraying the memory of the dead and insulting the survivors — as long as [Warsaw] return the favor in times of need through votes in [European Union headquarters at] Brussels.”

The premier has come under intense criticism that he was whitewashing Holocaust history after the Israeli and Polish governments issued a joint declaration on the Holocaust which critics said gave Poles an undeserved pass on crimes committed in the country during World War II. He has since promised to review the Israeli position.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2018, to discuss Poland’s amended Holocaust Law. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Barak accused Netanyahu of engaging in scare tactics to stay in power, while “the only existential threat to Israel at this time is internal.”

He added: “This existential threat is inherent to the vision and purpose of Netanyahu and the extremists: To thwart any possibility of divorce from the Palestinians” through a two-state solution.

“The single inevitable result of this purpose is Israel’s decay into a nation with a Muslim majority [with] constant internal violence and strife, and one that is not Jewish, Zionist, or democratic.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party said in response to the comments: “There is no point in responding to the weekly attempt by Ehud Barak, the worst prime minister in Israeli history, to round up a few headlines.”

In December Barak, in a New York Times op-ed, said the current government was endangering the entire Zionist project as it inches closer to an annexation of the West Bank, “precluding any permanent separation from the Palestinians.”

He accused the Netanyahu-led government of showing a general disrespect for the rule of law, and claimed that it had “declared war” on the courts, the media, civil society, and the ethical code of the IDF.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak attends a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, at the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on June 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Barak was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before becoming prime minister in 1999 after defeating Netanyahu in elections.

Following his defeat in 2001 to the late Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics, but returned to the Labor Party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013 he served as defense minister, the last four years under Netanyahu.

In 2011, he split from Labor, along with four other MKs, forming the short-lived Independence Party, in order to remain in Netanyahu’s coalition, despite the objection of most of Labor. The party was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s second retirement from politics in 2013.

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