1. Gaiter-gate: In 2016, Israelis guffawed as the British Daily Mail tabloid called Ehud Barak an “unidentified man” spotted entering Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan mansion with a bodyguard.
- Three years later, though, nobody is laughing as the Daily Mail republishes those pictures and some more in an attempt to disprove Barak’s claim that while he and Epstein spent a good amount of time together, girls and women were never part of the equation.
- The Mail attempts to color Barak in a more sinister light, alleging that he used a neck gaiter pulled partly over his face to conceal his identity, though the fact that he had the neck warmer pulled up to the top of his head like a hat in the original pictures clearly disproves that allegation (the irony being that the Mail had more trouble identifying Barak with his face not covered at all).
- Nonetheless, the story makes major waves in the Israeli press, splashed on the covers of both tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom.
- “The pictures that are entangling Barak,” reads a headline in Yedioth.
- Israel Hayom decides the neck warmer is shady and goes with the headline “Barak pictured entering Epstein house with his face covered.”
2. Out come the lawyers: Barak’s reaction is to explain that the pictures don’t show anything beyond the fact that he was cold, and threatens to sue The Daily Mail.
- “The reports and hints in the article are baseless… The Daily Mail has previously published several false articles such as this, about Barak and about others. Other journalists who looked into these matters found no evidence to support these lies,” a statement from his Israel Democratic Party reads.
- The threat is a reflection of Israel’s political climate, where public figures regularly threaten (and go through with) lawsuits to shut journalists up.
- In the UK, though, he may have a tougher time, even with a sensationalist paper like the Mail.
- As a case in point, last week, a comment by Scotland Yard that it was looking into prosecuting the paper over the publication of leaked cables showing the US envoy’s contempt for US President Donald Trump was met with widespread outrage, from politicians, journalists and others, including the foreign service.
3. More shady ties: Not helping matters, the Calcalist financial daily reports that Barak is also tied to financier Andrew Intrater, who it says is a “star of the Mueller Report” as a conduit of money to Trump fixer Michael Cohen.
- In fact, according to the New York Times, Intrater himself is not mentioned in the Mueller report, at least the redacted version, though the allegations are certainly out there.
- Calcalist report “reveals” that Barak and Intrater both served on the board of conglomerate CIFC, which was controlled prior to November 2016 by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has also been accused of being tied to dirty money around Trump.
- The news is not new. It’s mentioned in this Forbes report from last year, for instance, and the names are on publicly available SEC documents, but Israelis seem to only have noticed or care now.
4. No longer Ehud from the bloc: The sudden interest is of course tied to Barak’s resurgent political plans. The Epstein news would be damaging at any time, but with Barak attempting to mount a political comeback, it may constitute a death blow.
- Maariv reports that the Labor party, which Barak once headed before decamping to join up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, want Barak to quit.
- A Labor party source is quoted telling the newspaper that “Barak’s run is a stumbling block for the party. Not only does not he not contribute to the [center-left] bloc, he weakens it.”
5. Not just Labor’s loss: Perhaps further hurting Labor is the loss of party stalwart and former leader Shelly Yachimovich, who announced her retirement from politics on Tuesday.
- Yedioth notes that her departure “came as no surprise, as in recent weeks she had lowered her profile and refused to get involved with the party’s leadership primary.”
- Haaretz’s Yossi Verter calls her “one of Israel’s most effective politicians,” and writes that her departure is indicative of Labor’s precarious position.
- He writes that her effectiveness “was measurable not only in the roles she fulfilled, the most senior of which was leader of the opposition, but in her public status, her insistence on her principles and the laws she enacted. Her tongue was sharp as a sword. Many of her colleagues experienced it themselves, which didn’t make her the most likeable or amiable person in the Knesset.”
- Even Israel Hayom’s right wing columnist Haim Shine has kind words for Yachimovich, whom he calls “the most distinguished speaker of the socio-democratic dialogue in the Knesset and media … even when Israeli society preferred to be engaged with issues of survival, diplomacy and security over social issues.”
6. Where have all the leading ladies gone? Yachimovich’s departure is also viewed as a loss for the once ascendant female caucus in the Knesset, which has seen its representation drop, especially among the top ranks of most parties.
- “There’s no argument that she was one of the most outspoken, influential and impressive women that Israeli politics has known in the current era and her loss will be felt across the spectrum,” Walla’s Tal Shalev writes.
- Writing on the Channel 12 news website Mako, Inbar Shaked Daliyat says that 50 percent of the population is being left with barely any representation.
- “If nothing changes, important subjects like maternity leave for dads, true equality in the workplace, matching up the job market and educational system, advancing female athletics, pushing for harsher punishments against domestic abuse and many more subjects that need to move forward here will simply be pushed to the side,” she writes.