The left’s saviour? Ehud Barak ‘pre­par­ing ground’ for un­likely po­lit­i­cal come­back

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

EHUD BARAK may be Is­rael’s short­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter at one year and eight months but, at the age of 76, there are many who be­lieve he could be the only vi­able chal­lenger to Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

This be­lief seems to be shared by the prime min­is­ter’s close cir­cle, as his sup­port­ers have been at­tack­ing Mr Barak in re­cent weeks with al­le­ga­tions of dis­hon­est pay­ments.

It was six years ago this week that Mr Barak — then de­fence min­is­ter in the Ne­tanyahu govern­ment — an­nounced he was leav­ing front­line pol­i­tics. At the time, the pre­vail­ing wis­dom in Jerusalem was that he had given up on the pos­si­bil­ity that Mr Ne­tanyahu would give the or­der to strike on Iran’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties, a move for which he had been one of the main ad­vo­cates.

In sub­se­quent in­ter­views, Mr Barak bol­stered that im­pres­sion by hint­ing that the prime min­is­ter had never been se­ri­ous about go­ing ahead with the at­tack and was try­ing in­stead to con­vince the United States to strike Iran.

Since then, Mr Barak has fo­cused on pri­vate busi­ness but, after spend­ing four years in govern­ment as Mr Ne­tanyahu’s clos­est col­league, he has emerged as one of his fiercest crit­ics in in­ter­views and on so­cial me­dia.

Ev­ery two or three days, he tweets on the prime min­is­ter’s fail­ings. A tweet from Novem­ber 13, in the wake of the lat­est round of war­fare in Gaza, was a prime ex­am­ple: “Bankruptcy of the prime min­is­ter. The king is naked. There was never such a gap be­tween hol­low talk and op­er­a­tional im­po­tency.”

Ehud Barak’s elec­toral record is far from stel­lar. As Labour leader, he beat Mr Ne­tanyahu in the 1999 elec­tion but went on to lose to Ariel Sharon in 2001 and again to Mr Ne­tanyahu in 2009.

But with the cen­tre-left in Is­rael cur­rently split be­tween Zion­ist Union (the joint list of Labour and Tzipi Livni’s Hat­nuah) and Yesh Atid, and both par­ties polling cur­rently in the mid-teens, there are many within Labour who pri­vately won­der whether they would not be bet­ter off with him re­plac­ing the present Labour leader Avi Gab­bay.

Ms Livni, who in the past was es­tranged from Mr Barak, has taken to call­ing for a “bloc” of cen­tre-left par­ties and hold­ing an open primary for its leader — a pro­posal seen by many as pre­par­ing the ground for a re­turn of the last Labour prime min­is­ter.

Mr Barak him­self in his in­ter­views de­nies he has any con­crete plans. In July he said: “I’m not in mind to make a come­back. I’ve al­ready been in all the po­si­tions.” He de­scribes him­self as “a con­cerned cit­i­zen” — but nei­ther does he rule out the pos­si­bil­ity.

But it looks like Mr Ne­tanyahu is also con­cerned.

In re­cent weeks, jour­nal­ists close to him have un­earthed pay­ments Mr Barak re­ceived in 2004-06, while he was not in pub­lic ser­vice, from the Amer­i­can Wexner Foun­da­tion, which runs high-level pro­grammes for Jewish lead­ers and se­nior Is­raeli civil ser­vants.

The foun­da­tion paid Mr Barak a to­tal of 2.3 mil­lion shekels (£480,000) for undis­closed “re­search” — which the for­mer prime min­is­ter did not deny re­ceiv­ing, but in­sisted he paid tax upon.

Mr Barak has since hit back, claim­ing he was the vic­tim of a smear cam­paign by “prox­ies” of Mr Ne­tanyahu, who he de­scribed as “ter­ri­fied of an im­mi­nent in­dict­ment and the top­pling of his house of cards”.

It seems that rather than in­hibit him from mak­ing a come­back, this may have in­vig­o­rated him.

Barak de­scribes him­self as a ‘con­cerned cit­i­zen’

PHOTO: FLASH 90

Ehud Barak has not ruled out a re­turn

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