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Barak confidant reportedly behind campaign pushing for Gantz-Lapid merger

Lawyer Oshi Elmalich said to have created group that had pressured center and left factions to unify for chance at beating Netanyahu in elections

From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi pose for a picture after announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi pose for a picture after announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A lawyer closely linked to former prime minister Ehud Barak was behind a well-oiled campaign pushing for center-left parties to unite forces in a bid to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power in upcoming elections, according to a report Saturday.

Oshi Elmalich, a close confidant of Barak, was registered as the head of the National Responsibility organization, which funded ads and rallies urging several centrist and left-wing parties to merge for elections, according to Channel 13 news.

Elmalich shut the group down last week after the Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid parties agreed to run on a joint slate under the name Blue and White, in a letter the channel reported revealed the extent of the organization’s activities.

According to the report, the group had been behind a campaign for Labor and other center and left figures to join forces under the slogan “Without unity, the vote is lost.” Polls show Blue and White, led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, as thr only party outperforming Netanyahu’s Likud when Israelis head to the polls April 9, though the unified list may still struggle to cobble together a coalition depending on how well other parties do.

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Barak, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu before retiring from politics in 2013, has been one of the prime minister’s most vocal critics, and had also publicly backed the idea a center-left merger.

Speculation had run high that he was considering a return to a politics as part of a joint slate, and the group had lobbied for him to join forces as well.

Barak lauded Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for agreeing to merge last week, saying the two were “putting aside their egos and moving toward something that has a real chance of causing a revolution.”

The joint slate also includes former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, who served when Barak was defense minister. The two had a bitter falling out over a successor for Ashkenazi in 2011, an appointment which eventually went to Gantz.

The agreement to merge came after weeks of talks between Gantz, Lapid and other party heads. During that time activists, apparently part of the National Responsibility campaign, had held small-scale rallies outside Gantz’s home and ads calling for a merger were prevalent on social media and around the country.

Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv, on December 22, 2017. (Flash90)

Barak told Channel 13 that while he was in close contact with Elmalich, the campaign was wholly the lawyer’s.

There was no immediate response from Elmalich, who served as director of Labor when the party was headed by Barak and then as the director of the Independence Party, when Barak formed the faction in 2011 to split off with Labor and stay in Netanyahu’s coalition.

The Likud party told the channel that the link to Barak made it “clearer than ever that [Gantz and Lapid] will create a leftist government with the support of the Arab parties.”

Also Saturday, the Likud party asked the state prosecution to investigate Barak over accusations that he threatened Attorney General Avichai Manadelblit and obstructed justice.

Barak wrote on Twitter Saturday night if reports are true that Mandelblit does not intend to charge Netanyahu in one of the cases against him, he is not fit for the job and there should be a state committee to probe the decision.

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