Senior officials in the Labor and Meretz parties said that Ehud Barak’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, who is a suspect in a sex trafficking scandal, has significantly lowered their parties’ chances of merging with Barak’s newly formed Israel Democratic Party, according to a TV report Friday.
In closed conversations, the officials said that Barak’s ties to the financier would make it more difficult for their parties to pitch themselves to the public as champions in the fight against corruption, according to Channel 12.
They have decided to wait until closer to the closing of party lists before making any moves to partner with the former prime minister, the report said.
Epstein has been indicted for creating what prosecutors described as a network of underage girls whom he molested and exploited in the early 2000s.
Barak had been an active business partner with the disgraced financier as late as 2015. He formed a limited partnership company in Israel that year, called Sum (E.B.) 2015, to invest in a high-tech startup then called Reporty, now named Carbyne, which developed video streaming and geolocation software for emergency services. A large part of the money used by Sum to buy Reporty stock was supplied by Epstein, Haaretz reported Thursday.
The report appeared to raise new questions about the connection between Barak and Epstein — a relationship that has become a favorite election talking point for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Barak reentered the political fray last month, announcing a new party formed for the purpose of unseating Netanyahu.
Barak, who formerly led Labor, announced his political comeback last month after a six-year hiatus, launching the Israel Democratic Party. He has called repeatedly for parties on the center-left to run on a joint list, which he says is necessary to unseat Netanyahu.
While no alliances have been formed, a number of parties expressed interest. Labor chief Amir Peretz signaled he would be willing to let Barak lead the joint slate in order to bring about the united bloc. Barak also said he would be willing to give up the top slot on a joint list.
Peretz and Barak met on Wednesday to discuss the idea of a merger.
“The conversation was conducted with mutual respect and in a very positive atmosphere. Amir and I agreed to continue to converse with each other in the coming days,” Barak wrote on Twitter.
Peretz described the meeting as a continuation of their past talks, echoing Barak’s comments and saying it was held in “mutual respect.”
Besides Labor, Barak said he is also interested in joining forces with the left-wing Meretz party and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Meanwhile, the Blue and White party, which finished second to Netanyahu’s Likud in April’s elections, has not reacted enthusiastically to the prospect of merging with Barak’s slate.
Netanyahu has seized on the reports of Barak’s connection to Epstein, taking to social media with the demand: “Investigate Ehud Barak immediately.”
The prime minister did not say what behavior on Barak’s part could be the subject of a criminal probe, as no action described in the report appeared illegal.
Barak, too, responded to the report and Netanyahu’s post, confirming the 2015 partnership with Epstein, and comparing the convicted sex offender to Netanyahu.
“You don’t have to investigate — I confess,” he said in the statement. “I gave a second chance, both to Epstein and to Bibi [Netanyahu]. Both are now neck-deep in criminality. I expect both to recuse themselves until the truth is ascertained.”
He added: “For my part, all my activities were those of a private citizen, not a minister or prime minister. All were legal, reported to the authorities, and taxes were paid on them.”
Addressing Netanyahu, he added, “How about you?”
Netanyahu is at the center of three criminal investigations into alleged corruption, which he denies.