Former prime minister Ehud Barak on Friday night charged that the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was anti-Zionist and a danger to the State of Israel, but said “the countdown” to its defeat had begun.
He said the prime minister was no political magician but “has a great talent for deceit.” And he urged party leaders of the center and left to work to oust him.
Stepping up his critique, Barak also charged that Netanyahu had presided over vicious incitement against Yitzhak Rabin in the period before the prime minister was assassinated in 1995.
Speaking to Channel 2 a day after a fiery anti-Netanyahu speech at the Herzliya conference on Thursday in which he called for the government to be toppled by popular protest, Barak repeated the plea and asserted that a popular protest was a “legitimate form of protest in politics.”
In a sharp rebuke of right-wing critics, Barak said he wanted to remind those on the right what their popular protest against the left looked like 20 years ago, in the lead up to the assassination of then prime minister Rabin, and to make clear he was advocating no such actions.
“I did not suggest we stage a symbolic funeral for the Right at the entrance to Ra’anana; I did not suggest I stand on a balcony in Zion Square [in Jerusalem] where down [in the street] there are pictures of Netanyahu dressed in an SS uniform; and I did not suggest we put up an effigy of the prime minister’s wife with her legs pointing upward. These three things happened with the personal involvement and guidance of [then opposition leader] Benjamin Netanyahu in the framework of the political battle against Yitzhak Rabin who was then assassinated,” Barak said.
The former prime minister, who also served as defense minister under Netanyahu until 2013, repeated the criticisms he had made a day earlier in Herzliya that this government had lost its way, adding that Netanyahu’s days were numbered as prime minister.
“He needs to be replaced and thanked for everything he has done for the state — he’s done some things — but it’s time to go. We need to tell him: ‘For some reason, you’ve gone off the rails and you can’t get back on,'” Barak said, speaking of a “hijacked government with a heavy influence from the Likud central committee that has systematically ousted Likud members who adhered to the traditional values of the party.”
“What has happened this year was a turning point and came as a result of this hijacking of the Likud by the radical right,” Barak said.
“This government is made up only of right-wing parties; there is no balancing element. It is operating in devious ways, ways that endanger the State of Israel,” he charged.
By contrast, when he was in government under Netanyahu, the key security cabinet included such Likud democrats as Benny Begin, Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Meridor — all of whom are “committed to the rule of law” and all of whom are now gone, leaving a government without the necessary checks and balances.
Barak said he warned a year ago — at last year’s Herzliya conference — that Israel, under Netanyahu’s leadership, was losing its way.
“I said that the prime minister and the government have resorted to passivity, fear, victimhood and negativity [to run the country] and this is not how you run a country. That’s anti-Zionism,” he said.
On Netanyahu’s popularity among Israelis, which saw his Likud party soar to 30 seats in last year’s elections, Barak said that as someone who defeated Netanyahu in national elections (in 1999), he remembers that the polls indicated a popularity with voters back then too, but that Netanyahu eventually lost.
“I can tell you that he has no magic. He knows how to work, he’s an intelligent guy, [but] there’s no magic, there’s nothing that can’t be overcome through some systematic work,” he said.
“Netanyahu has a significant talent for politics, and a great talent for deceit and, therefore, there are a lot of people who have been exposed for some time to false propaganda dealing with basic issues to do with the state — for example, this lie that Israel’s security needs are incompatible with the idea of a two-state [solution to the Palestinian conflict] — this is a lie,” he added.
Barak alleged that reading Netanyahu’s responses over the past 24 hours, since his sharp remarks on Thursday, he could see the panic setting in.
“I’ve known Netanyahu since he was 20 years old, I can see the edges of panic. Netanyahu understands clearly that his days as prime minister are numbered, even if it takes months or years, they are numbered,” he said. “He recognizes that the countdown to the end of his prime ministership has begun, whether it now takes months, or a year, or a year and a half.”
The current leadership, he said, “speak like they have a spinal cord made of stainless steel. But they are the living representatives of the saying that it’s easier to take the people out of the Diaspora than the Diaspora out of the people.”
Barak urged all center and center-left parties to work together to change the government, naming party leaders Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), Arye Deri (Shas) and Zehava Galon (Meretz).
Following Thursday’s speech, pundits speculated that Barak, 74, intended to return to political life, a move Barak did not reject outright on Friday. But he made clear he would not run for prime minister.
“I don’t believe the only options are to either run for prime minister or sit at home and shut up. There’s lots to do and I intend to act to change the situation. I intend to support the effort to change this situation, to bring down the government,” he said.
In a long response to Barak’s remarks, the Likud party said that Barak was a “failed politician and prime minister looking for a way back into the political fold.”
“It’s the reason he’s trying to stay in the public consciousness at any price, including his recent statements that contradict what he would say when he was sitting at the government table. Barak’s call to topple an elected government a year after the people have spoken so clearly, reminds us of the famous leftist slogan ‘change the people,'” the Likud said.