'We will not join with Ehud Barak'

Lapid rules out merger with Barak: ‘He’s part of the left’

Blue and White No.2 says only his party can beat Netanyahu; Barak says the size of the bloc matters more

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid on Sunday ruled out partnering with former prime minister Ehud Barak for the upcoming September elections, saying that the ex-Labor party head was “part of the left.”

“We will not join with Ehud Barak,” Lapid told Channel 13 news. “Ehud Barak belongs to the left. That’s fine.”

His remarks came after Israeli television reported that Barak, who announced his return to politics last week, was pushing for the creation of a united center-left faction ahead of elections in September.

“The only important thing is the size of the bloc that will defeat Netanyahu and replace the government. It is imperative that central public figures refrain from echoing Netanyahu’s divisive comments and focus on the effort to replace him,” the network quoted Barak’s party as saying in response.

Hitting back, Lapid accused Barak of intentionally misleading Israeli voters.

“If you want to win you must vote for Blue and White. There is no time for hobbies,” Lapid tweeted in an apparent dig at the ex-premier.

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

A day earlier, senior Blue and White member Gabi Ashkenazi said his party “wouldn’t have a problem” joining up with Barak.

“We’re not ruling anything out. There’s no rivalry between us, we share the same goal,” Ashkenazi told Channel 12.

Barak’s envisioned tie-up, which was reported by Channel 12 and the Kan public broadcaster, would include his still-unnamed party, Labor, Meretz, and Blue and White.

Blue and White was reportedly wary of the proposal, fearing it could hurt its ability to attract right-wing voters.

“Barak’s reentry into politics is no surprise. He’s been warming up on the sidelines for the past few years,” said Ashkenazi, who is No.4 on the Blue and White slate. “I welcome everyone who comes to contribute to the country.”

He said Barak’s return would not come at Blue and White’s expense, emphasizing that the alliance headed by Benny Gantz and Lapid was a centrist party, and not left-wing.

As opposed to Lapid, Ashkenazi said that if Barak unified the left, while Blue and White sat firmly in the political center, and the right-wing parties coalesced around Netanyahu, there would be a clear division between the three camps, which he said could be a positive development.

Blue and White party leaders, from left to right: Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi. Tel Aviv, March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Declaring Netanyahu’s political career to be over, Barak on Wednesday announced the establishment of his new still-unnamed party, which will run in the September 17 election.

During his announcement, Barak said Blue and White lacked the “passion” necessary to convince voters and claimed its leaders were not willing to fight hard enough to defeat Netanyahu.

Just hours after Barak announced his comeback, a television poll said his new party would win six seats if national elections were held immediately.

Barak, 77, was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before beating Netanyahu in 1999 to become prime minister.

Following his defeat in 2001 by the late Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics but returned to lead the Labor party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013, he served as defense minister, including four years in Netanyahu’s cabinet.

In 2011, he split with Labor, forming the short-lived Atzmaut party so that he could remain in Netanyahu’s coalition despite the objection of most of Labor. Atzmaut was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s second retirement from politics in 2013.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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