Former prime minister Ehud Barak went on the offensive Wednesday evening, dismissing as a “blood libel” a tabloid insinuating that he met women at alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s residence.
in front of hundreds of supporters at a campaign launch event in Tel Aviv for his new Israel Democratic Party, Barak asserted that the report in the Dailymail.com was a result of the “poisoned atmosphere” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fostered over the past two decades.
“Over the last 24 hours something has happened in Israel, something despicable. A terrible blood libel, a baseless lie,” charged Barak, who is attempting to make a comeback after nearly a decade out of politics.
Barak has threatened to sue the Daily Mail, which on Tuesday published an article claiming to show Barak entering Epstein’s home in 2016 at the same time young women may have been present and insinuating nefarious aims.
“For over 20 years, anyone who has stood against Netanyahu has been dragged through the mud and turned into a traitor,” Barak said, pointing the finger at the premier for “spreading lies.”
“Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was incited against, with Netanyahu’s blessing, until his life was taken by three shots,” Barak continued. “Those shots are a consequence of the incitement and mudslinging that is spread against anyone today who stands against Netanyahu.”
He claimed that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz had been the target of such attacks in the last election campaign “simply because he wanted to lead Israel to normalcy, and to ensure that Netanyahu does not hide behind his position of power and stand trial like any other citizen.”
“And now it’s my turn. It must stop. And it will stop,” Barak declared.
Barak said the attacks on him only made him “more determined” to push ahead with his political comeback with the goal of ousting Netanyahu.
Barak’s ties to Epstein, which go back over 15 years, have become an unexpected hot-button issue in the election campaign in Israel, after Epstein was arrested earlier this month.
Epstein faces federal charges of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s. His indictment, unsealed last week, shows conspiracy and sex trafficking charges that could result in up to 45 years in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
Barak, who entered a business deal with Epstein in 2015, years after the American financier served time for solicitation, called long-rumored allegations of sex trafficking by Epstein “abhorrent” and announced that he had officially cut off all business ties with him.
“I thought Epstein was a one-time stumble. When it turned out differently, I drew conclusions and cut off any contact with him,” Barak said.
Earlier Wednesday, Barak issued an ultimatum to the Daily Mail tabloid to remove the article insinuating that he had been present at one of Jeffrey Epstein’s homes when he was having women over. As of 10:00 p.m. the article remained on the newspaper’s website, three hours past the deadline.
The Likud party has attempted for weeks to capitalize on Barak’s ties to the disgraced financier, but the former prime minister said it was Netanyahu who was associating with unsavory characters like adviser Natan Eshel.
“The fact that under Netanyahu, a sex offender permanently removed from public service, continues to be his closest associate and coalition negotiator is a disgrace,” said Barak.
Eshel, the premier’s former chief-of-staff who admitted to surreptitiously placing a camera to film under the skirt of a female colleague, was a key player in coalition negotiations earlier this year.
He also took aim at Netanyahu over his relationship with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who police are gearing up to recommend be indicted for illicitly using his position to provide his assistance to both alleged and convicted pedophiles.
And he called Netanyahu’s son Yair “a womanizer and an inciter.”
The younger Netanyahu made headlines last year when an embarrassing recording was leaked in which he can be heard making disparaging comments about women during a night out at Tel Aviv strip joints.
Yair Netanyahu responded to Barak on Twitter late Wednesday, calling him a failed prime minister, a drunk, and incorrectly asserting that Barak had admitted to bringing security personnel, paid for by the public, to Epstein’s island home.
In response, Likud said Barak was lying and urged him to clarify what he was doing at Epstein’s home and answer questions over millions he received from a foundation linked to Epstein in the early 2000s for “research.”