Barak announces name of his new political grouping: Israel Democratic Party

Former PM says will unite country ‘a moment before the total dissolution of Israeli democracy’; billboard campaign to launch with slogan ‘State of Netanyahu or State of Israel?’

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a press conference announcing his return to politics ahead of national elections in September, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a press conference announcing his return to politics ahead of national elections in September, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Former prime minister Ehud Barak on Saturday announced the name of his new party — Israel Democratic Party — saying that he would bring back “hope and courage” to the country.

“The State of Israel is at a moment before the total dissolution of Israeli democracy. Now is the time to return hope and courage to Israel, to unite and return Israel to the right track. We are a Democratic Israel,” Barak tweeted, alongside a picture of a red, white and blue campaign poster.

Channel 12 news reported that a billboard campaign will be launched Sunday with the slogan: “State of Netanyahu or the State of Israel?”

The literal translation of the Hebrew name is “Democratic Israel” but party officials told the Times of Israel that Barak has asked for it to be named the “Israel Democratic Party” in English.

Barak announced the establishment of the then-unnamed new party last week, vowing to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September.

A poll published Friday gave Barak’s party just four Knesset seats out of 120 after the September 17 elections.

However, newly elected Labor Party leader Amir Peretz signaled Thursday that he is willing to do whatever it takes to create a large leftist bloc ahead of the elections, including stepping aside to let Barak lead a joint slate of their two parties.

Both Peretz and Barak have previously led Labor; Barak wrested control of the party from Peretz in 2007.

Knesset Speaker and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein appeared to refer to that incident in a tweet responding to the announcement of Barak’s party’s name.

“Ehud, democracy begins with a democratic process in the party. You do not have to learn only from the Likud party — you can also learn from the party you abandoned and crushed. Remember?”

Then defense minister Ehud Barak, right, sits next to MK Amir Peretz as he attends the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting in the Knesset on March 19, 2012. (Uri Lenz/Flash 90)

Barak on Tuesday pledged his party would not sit in the same government as Netanyahu. “Our goal is to bring Israel back on track and topple the Netanyahu regime,” said Barak at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

“We will not sit with [Netanyahu] in the same government under any circumstances or in any way. We will join together to bring him down and after his departure, we will sit with all those who agree with… our outlook: a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state, in the spirit of the values ​​of the Declaration of Independence and the vision of the prophets,” added the former defense minister who served under Netanyahu until 2013.

His comments came hours after his party’s No. 2, Yair Golan, a former deputy army chief of staff, signaled openness to future partnerships with Netanyahu.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (2R), Prof. Yifat Bitton (2L), retired major general Yair Golan (R) and Dr. Kobi Richter pose for a picture during a press conference announcing the establishment of a new political party led by him in Tel Aviv on June 26, 2019. (Flash90)

Barak on Tuesday also pledged to scrap proposals to regulate ultra-Orthodox enlistment. He put forth an “integration plan,” which he claimed will work to integrate Haredi Israelis through national service programs rather than military service.

The issue of Haredi military service was a bone of contention between Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman’s secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party during the unsuccessful May coalition negotiations, which ended with a new round of elections called for September, the second in under six months.

Barak was the Israel Defense Forces’ longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before becoming prime minister in 1999 after defeating Netanyahu. Following his defeat in 2001 to the late Ariel Sharon, he 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 of which were under Netanyahu.

In 2011, while serving as defense minister under Netanyahu, Barak split with Labor in order to remain in the coalition government despite the objection of most of the party.

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)

In his new party, Barak is joined by former deputy IDF chief of staff Golan; law professor Yifat Biton; entrepreneur Kobi Richter; former Labor Party member Yaya Fink; author-attorney Noa Rothman, who is the granddaughter of the late Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin; and former head of the right-wing Jewish Home’s women’s caucus Sagit Peretz Deri.

In announcing the formation of his party, Barak, 77, sent shudders through the ranks of both the ailing Labor Party and the centrist Blue and White. Both are likely to see voters defecting to the former prime minister and IDF general who declared himself the only person capable of unseating Netanyahu.

Barak is also reportedly in talks with Emilie Moatti regarding the possibility of the Labor activist joining his slate as well — which would be an additional blow to the venerable party that was holding its leadership primary on Tuesday.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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