Former Peace Now chair and one-time Meretz party leadership candidate Avi Buskila announced Sunday that he is joining the newly formed Israel Democratic Party headed by Ehud Barak.
“I am excited and proud to join the struggle to save Israeli democracy. This is no longer an election campaign, but a fateful choice over the vision of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” Buskila said in a statement.
“These days, as [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his emissaries continue to tear Israeli society apart, we offer another way, a way of working together and reuniting Israeli society,” he added.
Before being appointed Peace Now director-general in October 2016, Buskila, who is openly gay, worked as an advertising executive specializing in the LGBTQ community and made a name for himself as a prominent social activist. He stepped down as head of Peace Now in order to run for the Meretz leadership in 2018, but was trounced by rival by MK Tamar Zandberg, who has since lost the position to Nitzan Horowitz.
Barak, who formed his new party last month, has been pushing for cooperation among center-left parties to defeat Netanyahu in the September 17 elections.
However, over the weekend senior officials in the Labor and Meretz parties said that new of Barak’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, a US financier suspected in a sex trafficking scandal, have significantly lowered their parties’ chances of merging with the IDP.
In closed conversations, the officials said that Barak’s ties to the billionaire, who is facing trial in the US, would make it more difficult for their parties to pitch themselves to the public as champions of the fight against corruption.
Epstein, who served time in 2008 for solicitation, was arrested earlier this month and accused of paying underage 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 look into severing his ties with Epstein as soon as the new charges became public.