Former prime minister Ehud Barak on Monday lashed out at Yair Lapid, saying the Blue and White No. 2 was the reason the centrist party didn’t win the April elections.
Lapid fired back, saying that votes for Barak in the upcoming September elections would just be “thrown in the trash” and predicting that his Israel Democratic Party would fail to clear the Knesset electoral threshold.
“Lapid is the main reason Blue and White didn’t win — he’s a shiny wrapper for the party,” Barak told the Kan public broadcaster.
Earlier this week, Barak’s party criticized the deal between Lapid and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to rotate the premiership if they form the next government. According to the party’s internal studies, Kan reported, a rotation agreement with Lapid’s Yesh Atid party could cut two seats from the center-left bloc after the September elections.
Blue and White won 35 seats in the April election, the same number as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
“He will throw 100,000 votes in the trash,” Lapid said on Monday in response to Barak. “Now is not the time [to form] political parties as a hobby.”
Despite shaking up the dreary election campaign and sending shockwaves through several centrist and left-wing parties that are likely to lose voters to Barak’s new party, a poll published earlier this month gave Israel Democratic just four Knesset seats out of 120. Other polls have given Barak between four and eight seats.
Barak is pushing to form a united bloc of center-left parties ahead of general elections in September, and is said to be interested in joining forces with center-left Labor, the left-wing Meretz party, and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Last month, Lapid ruled out partnering with Barak for the upcoming September elections, saying that the ex-Labor party head was “part of the left.” Barak’s party responded by saying that it “is imperative that central figures refrain from echoing Netanyahu’s divisive comments and focus on the effort to replace him.”
Barak, who re-entered politics this month by forming the Israel Democratic Party to run in the elections, also touched on the subject of his relationship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein during the interview.
“I express my aversion to the acts attributed to him. Of course with the new information, Epstein is not the sort of person to be close to,” Barak said.
Epstein was previously indicted for creating what prosecutors described as a network of underage girls whom he molested and exploited in the early 2000s.
In 2008, Epstein signed a non-prosecution deal that required him to admit to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and register as a sex offender. He served just 13 months in a county jail.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, in 2015 Barak formed a limited partnership company in Israel, called Sum (E.B.) 2015, to invest in a high-tech startup called Reporty.
A large part of the investment money was supplied by Epstein, who was arrested earlier this month and accused of paying girls hundreds of dollars in cash for massages and then molesting them at his homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York from 2002 through 2005. The charges, filed in New York, carry the potential for up to 45 years in prison.
Barak said Saturday that he had asked a lawyer to examine severing ties with Epstein as soon as the new charges became public.
On Monday, Barak defended himself, telling the Kan broadcaster: “American society accepted [Epstein] after his conviction.”
He also dismissed as “spin” calls from the right wing for him to be investigated by police for his ties to Epstein and a payment from the Wexner Foundation, connected to the US financier. He repeatedly refused to clarify exactly what work he carried out for the fund to receive the payment of NIS 10 million (approximately $2.3 million at the time).
“The contract between the Wexner Foundation and myself was signed between 2003 and possibly 2004. At that time I was a private citizen who consulted, researched and lectured,” Barak said.
“They tried to tie this to the fact that Epstein was affiliated with the Wexner Foundation. I do not know Epstein’s relationship with the Wexner Foundation, but I tell you that according to an article published in Israel Hayom yesterday, Epstein donated sums to the Wexner Foundation in 2008, five years after I signed a contract. A connection between the two things is simply ludicrous,” Barak said.
Senior officials in the Labor and Meretz parties have told Channel 12 that Barak’s ties to Epstein had significantly lowered their parties’ chances of merging with his newly formed Israel Democratic Party. In closed conversations, the officials said that Barak’s links to the financier would make it more difficult for their parties to pitch themselves to the public as champions in the fight against corruption.