If gov't doesn't get back on track, 'we must bring it down -- via popular protest and the ballot box'

Barak flogs Netanyahu, laments ‘budding fascism’ in Israel

Former PM accuses premier of lying about his desire for Palestinian statehood, cheapening the Holocaust by ‘Hitlerizing’ every threat

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Ehud Barak speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016. (Adi Cohen Zedek)
Ehud Barak speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016. (Adi Cohen Zedek)

Former prime minister Ehud Barak blasted Israel’s current government on Thursday evening, saying it was putting the country on the path to becoming an “apartheid state,” and should be brought down if it fails to get back on track.

“I call on the government to come to its senses, to get back on track immediately,” said Barak. “If it does not do that, it will be incumbent upon all of us — yes, all of us — to get up from our seats, comfortable ones and uncomfortable ones, and bring it down via popular protest and via the ballot box before it’s too late,” he said.

Calling the Netanyahu government “weak, flaccid and noisy,” Barak lobbed criticism after criticism at the Israeli leader and his ministers in a blistering speech at the Herzliya Conference, accusing them of operating based on a “covert agenda” to make a two-state solution untenable.

“Fulfilling [that agenda] will inevitably — and that’s a key word in this discussion: inevitably — bring us to a single state, which will be an apartheid state,” Barak said. “Or it will be a bi-national state with a Jewish minority in a generation or two — which will have a high likelihood of experiencing a drawn-out civil war.”

He also said Israel faces “no existential threats” from regional enemies, and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of magnifying the threats from terror groups and other enemies by comparing them all to Nazi Germany. “Hitlerization by the prime minister cheapens the Holocaust,” he said. “Our situation is grave even without [comparisons to] Hitler.”

Netanyahu dismissed the criticisms, accusing Barak of attacking him “once a month” in a bid to “stay relevant.”

Barak, who last served as defense minister under Netanyahu until 2013 when he quit politics, echoed comments made earlier in the day by another former defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, saying Israel’s government and the Likud had been taken over by a “fanatical core group with a radical ideology” that freely attacks the Supreme Court, the freedom of expression and other principles of democracy.

Moshe Ya'alon announces his intent to run for the leadership of Israel during the Herzliya conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on June 16, 2016. (Adi Cohen Zedek)
Moshe Ya’alon announces his intent to run for the leadership of Israel during the Herzliya conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on June 16, 2016. (Adi Cohen Zedek)

“Only a blind person or a sheep, an ignoramus or someone jaded, can’t see the erosion of democracy and the ‘budding fascism,'” Barak said, to considerable applause from the audience.

Referencing the controversy surrounding statements made last month by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who seemingly drew parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany, Barak made it clear that he was not comparing Israel to the European fascism of “90 years ago — not 70 years ago.”

“But if it looks like budding fascism, walks like budding fascism and quacks like budding fascism, that’s the situation,” he said, to another round of applause.

The ‘covert agenda’

After the end of his tenure as defense minister in 2013 when elections were called by Netanyahu, Barak said, he “thought, naively, that this was a government that didn’t know where it was going, but many of my best friends in the world suspect that Netanyahu’s administration knows quite well what it wants. There is a covert plan,” Barak accused.

“What is this agenda?” he asked rhetorically, before launching into a lengthy, numbered answer.

“One, Israel plans to continue controlling the area that was conquered, liberated in 1967 forever. Two, Israel is not interested in two states, and doesn’t want a Palestinian state right next door. Three, Israel is waiting for the world to adapt to and accept this reality, and is hoping that tough incidents — like terror attacks in Europe, the situation in Syria, and so on — will divert its attention [from the situation here],” Barak said.

“Four, Israel will agree to autonomy with limited rights for Palestinians, but not a state. Five, Israel will continue carefully building in the settlements and beyond them in order to gradually create irreversible facts on the ground,” he added.

To counteract those alleged actions, the former prime minister called for renewed ties with the Palestinian Authority, which he said was the only thing keeping Hamas, the Islamic State and other dangerous terror groups out of the West Bank. Netanyahu, he claimed, was in fact bringing “Hamas and the Islamic State closer to Jerusalem and Kfar Saba,” a suburb of Tel Aviv.

Responding to recent statements by the prime minister and defense minister embracing the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Barak called Netanyahu disingenuous — and blatantly so.

“In capitals around the world — in London and Washington, in Berlin and Paris, in Moscow and Beijing — no leader believes a word coming out of Netanyahu’s mouth or his government’s,” he said.

Going forward, he encouraged Israel to seriously revisit the Arab Peace Initiative, which he called “not ideal,” but a “basis for negotiations.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday, November 14, the first day of Operation Pillar of Defense (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday, November 14, 2012, the first day of Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Israel, Barak said, was rapidly approaching a fork in the road, one way leading to all-out war with the Palestinians, and the other leading to an apartheid state.

“We are at the start of the path, whose inevitable end is similar to Belfast and Bosnia or old Johannesburg, and even all three together,” he said.

That situation would lead to a break between Israel and other countries around the world, as well as a deterioration in the relationship between Israel and Jewish communities in America.

“They will only accept a single state if — and only if — it’s a Jewish-Arab nation of all its citizens, operating on the condition of ‘one person, one vote’ — and who among us wants that?” he asked.

Where do we go from here?

Aside from the issue of the Palestinians, Barak blamed the government for failing to plan for the future and handle the problems currently facing Israel.

Those issues included “the cost of living, the cost of apartments, the weakening of the middle class, the injustice in the deep wage gap,” he said, neglecting to mention his own impressive personal wealth.

Israel, Barak said, is generally doing well.

“Go to the periphery, to units in the IDF, to the colleges and you will find a more patriotic Israel, one that is proud, optimistic and confident than what the media would have you think,” he said.

But, the former prime minister said, again echoing Ya’alon, “Israel needs a different leadership, one that has a compass and not a weather vane, one that has the Declaration of Independence in its backpack, and not — God forbid — ‘Torat HaMelech.'” He was referring to a radical piece of religious literature favored by Jewish extremists.

It was not clear whether Barak’s fiery speech signaled a possible return to the political fold. Asked by The Times of Israel if he intended to return to politics, Barak responded: “Let’s just leave it at what I said in there for now.”

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