Barak: There should be no 'When he goes low, we go high'

Declaring Netanyahu’s time is up, Ehud Barak announces formation of new party

Former PM pans Blue and White leadership for lack of passion needed to convince voters in the last campaign, says size of blocs, not of individual parties, will determine winner

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak announces the formation of a new party, at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov on June 26, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak announces the formation of a new party, at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov on June 26, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Declaring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career to be over, his predecessor and former coalition partner Ehud Barak announced the establishment of a new political party on Wednesday that will compete in the September elections.

“We have come here today to announce the establishment of a new party that will work to reform the country and society… This is not the time to remain sitting on the sidelines,” Barak said at a press conference in Tel Aviv with his partners, former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, law professor Yifat Biton and entrepreneur Kobi Richter.

“Netanyahu has reached the end [of his career],” said Barak, claiming even the prime minister’s associates were well aware of this.

“Bibi this is your last chance to go home on your own,” he continued, imploring the prime minister not to plunge the country into “chaos” in order to “save yourself from prison.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (R) announces the formation of a new party along with Kobi Richter (L), Yifat Biton and Yair Golan at Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolov on June 26, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Barak claimed that Netanyahu had called for early elections last April in order “to disrupt the legal proceedings [against himself] and in order to pass the Supreme Court override law and immunity-granting legislation, but this failed.”

Netanyahu’s Likud was dismissive of Ehud Barak’s new, as-yet unnamed party.

“We don’t involve ourselves in how the left divides its seats between Ehud Barak and [Blue and White’s Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz,” the right-wing party said, using almost the same statement verbatim as they released when Benny Gantz announced his entry into politics.

Barak, 77, was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before becoming prime minister in 1999 after defeating Netanyahu in elections.

Following his defeat in 2001 to the late Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics, but returned to the Labor Party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013, he served as defense minister, the last four years of which were under Netanyahu.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (L) shakes hands with Yair Golan after announcing the formation of a new party at Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolov on June 26, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

In 2011, he split with Labor. The change was short-lived with his Atzmaut party remaining in Netanyahu’s coalition government, despite the objection of most of Labor. The party was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s second retirement from politics in 2013.

Barak flirted with throwing his hat in the ring ahead of the last election campaign, but ultimately decided against it shortly after the formation of the Blue and White party.

Channel 12 news reported Wednesday night that Barak and Gantz had discussed possible cooperation ahead of the previous election, but Gantz eventually cut off talks.

The former prime minister said Wednesday that the slate led by Benny Gantz lacked the “passion” necessary to convince voters and claimed they weren’t willing to fight hard enough to defeat Netanyahu.

“There should be no ‘When he goes low, we go high.’ There is only doing what is necessary, within the confines of the law, in order to win,” Barak asserted.

He then went on to criticize a common Blue and White talking point voiced repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the April vote, in which the centrist faction asserted that the party with the most seats would be tasked with forming the coalition.

“It is not the size of the party that matters, it is the size of the blocs,” Barak contended, pointing out that Likud and Blue and White each received 35 seats, but Netanyahu easily managed to be tasked with forming the coalition instead of Gantz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak attend a press conference at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, November 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Following Barak at the presser was Golan, who criticized a “campaign of delegitimization” against the Israeli left and warned that amid growing divides in Israeli society, the country could soon reach a moment in which its citizens will refuse to enlist in the army and question “why should I serve a corrupt” government.

Richter said that the new group would reach out to all parts of Israeli society, including the ultra-Orthodox sector, hinting that his party would avoid the line of attack against the Haredim which members of Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White have taken in recent months.

Biton, the lone female representative at the press conference said the party would produce a slate with an equal amount of men and women.

Barak said that in the coming two or three weeks, the party would introduce a more detailed agenda and list of candidates.

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