Left-wing lawmakers cautiously hail Barak’s comeback, right blasts his record
Shaked asks if former PM thinks Israelis have forgotten his ‘botched term,’ while Shaffir says his new party marks a return to ‘courageous’ politics
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent
Lawmakers from across the spectrum were quick to comment on former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Wednesday announcement of a political comeback, with politicians on the left appearing to welcome the move while those on the right criticized his political record.
Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who earlier this month confirmed she is staying in politics and will run in the upcoming September Knesset elections, slammed Barak in a tweet.
“Barak thinks the Israeli public has forgotten his botched term, and the blood that led us to the Second Intifada and the October riots,” Shaked wrote. In October 2000, during Barak’s 1999-2001 term as prime minister, 13 Israeli Arabs were killed in a series of clashes with police at the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada.
MK Stav Shaffir, who has announced her candidacy for Labor’s leadership as the beleaguered center-left party seeks to recover from a devastating election result in April, said that the return of Barak, who once led Labor, marked a resurgence of the “fighting spirit” on the left.
Declaring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career to be over, his predecessor and former coalition partner Barak on Wednesday announced the establishment of his new political party that will compete in the September elections. Barak appeared at a press conference in Tel Aviv with his new political partners: former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, law professor Yifat Biton and entrepreneur Kobi Richter.
“I welcome Barak for his return to politics and Yair Golan on his enlistment [to Barak’s party]. Both are excellent leaders with whom I am in continuous contact, and they mark a return of courage and the fighting spirit to politics, which is the direction I will take the Labor Party in after I am chosen,” she wrote, implying that should she win the Labor leadership she would seek to enlist Barak and his running mates on the party’s slate.
One of Shaffir’s rivals for the Labor leadership, MK Itzik Shmuli, also commented on the comeback.
“I spoke with Ehud Barak and congratulated him on his return to the political arena. I told him that if I am elected to lead the party, I will strive for cooperation between Labor and his party,” Shmuli wrote.
On the right, Economy Minister Eli Cohen of the Kulanu party, which will run with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the September 17 elections, slammed Barak, saying, “The most failed prime minister in the history of the country is trying to teach everyone how to run a country. The height of absurdity.”
Hours after Barak’s announcement, a television poll said the former prime minister’s new party would win six seats if national elections were held now.
Barak, 77, was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before defeating 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.
Netanyahu’s Likud was dismissive of Barak’s new, as-yet unnamed party.
“We don’t concern ourselves with how the left divides its seats between Ehud Barak and [Blue and White’s Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz,” the ruling party said, using almost the same statement verbatim as it released when Benny Gantz announced his entry into politics.
Channel 12 news reported Wednesday night that Barak and Gantz had discussed cooperating ahead of the previous elections in April, but Gantz eventually cut off talks.
Barak said Wednesday that Blue and White lacked the “passion” necessary to convince voters and claimed its leaders weren’t willing to fight hard enough to defeat Netanyahu. He said that in the coming two or three weeks, his party would introduce a more detailed agenda and list of candidates.