First Labor candidate defects to Ehud Barak’s new rival party
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First Labor candidate defects to Ehud Barak’s new rival party

Renouncing place on beleaguered slate, Yair Fink says Israel ‘in need of real leadership’ that can mount a credible challenge to Netanyahu

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Former Labor party candidate Yair Fink (R)  with former prime minister Ehud Barak, June 30, 2019. (Courtesy)
Former Labor party candidate Yair Fink (R) with former prime minister Ehud Barak, June 30, 2019. (Courtesy)

The Labor party suffered its first defection to past leader Ehud Barak on Sunday, days after the former prime minister announced the establishment of a new political party to compete in the September elections.

Removing himself from the number 12 slot on Labor’s electoral slate, Yair (Yaya) Fink, former head of the community activist organization “Good Neighbor” and a former chief of staff to party veteran MK Shelly Yachimovich, announced that he would be joining Barak’s team because he believes that “we are in need of real leadership” that can mount a credible challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I am joining a group I really believe in, both its leadership and the real mobilization it represents,” Fink said in a statement.

A prominent advocate for a softer nationalist stance within the religious-Zionist community, Fink said he believed that Barak’s new party was the place to “reclaim” Judaism for the left.

Yair Fink thanks supporters after the release of the results in the Labor party primaries in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

“The time has come to put an end to the exclusivity that the extreme right has taken for itself on national and Jewish issues,” Fink said. “No one has exclusivity over the Zionist ethos and the Jewish idea. My Judaism pursues peace… There is no contradiction between Jewish values ​​and democracy. Anyone who seeks to find a contradiction between the two in practice undermines the essence of the state and undermines the values ​​of Zionism.”

As leader of Labor, Barak was responsible for partnering with Meimad, a dovish religious political movement that ran with the venerable center-left party from 1999 to 2006.

Barak said that Fink’s decision to join his new party “reflects a broad movement of citizens who have decided to take their fate into their own hands, unite, and embark on a path that will put Israel back on track.”

Announcing the formation of his new party on Wednesday, Barak, 77, immediately sent shudders through the ranks of both the ailing Labor party and the centrist Blue and White. Both are likely to see voters defecting to the former prime minister and IDF general who declared himself the only person capable of unseating Netanyahu.

Labor, the party that led Israel for the country’s first 30 years, has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil in the party, and the emergence of various new political players that have eroded its base. In the April elections, it received just six Knesset seats, the worst result in its history.

Former PM Ehud Barak speaks during a press conference announcing the establishment of a new political party in Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Flash90)

Barak 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. Following his defeat in 2001 to the late Ariel Sharon, he 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.

In 2011, while serving as defense minister under Netanyahu, Barak split with Labor in order to remain in the coalition government despite the objection of most of the party.

Hours after Barak announced his political comeback last week, a television poll said his new party would win six seats if national elections were held today.

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