Associates of Ehud Barak Lay Groundwork for Political Comeback

Former aides and relatives set up a public-benefit company, whose stated goals is to advance the peace process with the Palestinians

Ehud Barak at a conference, August 17, 2016.
Ehud Barak at a conference, August 17, 2016. Tomer Appelbaum

Associates of Ehud Barak, including a niece as well as a former political adviser, formed a public-benefit company in December that would serve as an organizational platform for the former prime minister and defense minister should he decide to return to politics.

The company, "Ahrayut Leumit (Hebrew for national responsibility) — Israel is My Home,” was registered by Oshi Elmaliah, a lawyer who had been Barak’s political adviser and the director of Barak’s Atzmaut party, until Barak decided not to run for Knesset again in 2013. Elmaliah, who practices law in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, has remained close to Barak, meeting with him frequently.

The company’s seven shareholders all serve on its board. The directors are Tal Brog, a film director and editor whose father is Barak’s brother Avinoam Brog, as well as former longtime Barak advisers Dana Zeidman and Itai Winterstein. Zeidman aided Barak during his most recent political comeback, before he won the Labor Party primary in 2007.

Lior Sethon is a longtime Labor Party activist who was an adviser to Barak in the Defense Ministry. Netanal Katz is a lawyer in Elmaliah’s law firm, Barak Weissman of Ramat Gan was also active in Atzmaut, and Eli-Eyal Assaf is a neighbor of Elmaliah’s in the Galilee community of Kfar Vradim.

Weissman’s Facebook page is full of praise for Barak. Last week he wrote, “Many people on the center-left think they’ll succeed in replacing [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], but only one person in the country really scares the right. Too bad he isn’t running,” and posted a picture of Barak.

According to its charter, the purpose of Ahrayut Leumit is to promote the principles of Israel’s Declaration of Independence among Israelis, including Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state based on freedom, justice, peace and equal rights.

But when asked, the shareholders themselves were rather vague. “I’m not an expert in these things,” said Winterstein. “I don’t know about this, let me check who does.” In a follow-up conversation, Winterstein referred a reporter to Elmaliah. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on there; I’m not in politics at all,” Winterstein said.

“Refer all your questions to Oshi Elmaliah. I’m a private individual,” Katz said.

Barak plans on running for prime minister after he is asked to do so by leaders of the center-left, on the assumption that only he could defeat Netanyahu, as he did in the 1999 election. Barak does not intend to compete in a party primary; his hope is that he will be invited to head the camp.

In a written response from his office, Elmaliah confirmed the goals of Ahrayut Leumit, which also include the advancement of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians leading to an Palestinian state in which Israel’s national and security interests are guaranteed.

To that end, the statement said, the public-benefit company seeks to cooperate with like-minded agencies and individuals around the world.

Ahrayut Leumit plans to “join hands with public figures and nonpartisan political entities, including former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Mr. Ehud Barak,” said the response, adding that at this early stage in its development “it prefers to operate quietly, directly with the public ... and has no interest at this point in sharing with readers details of its activities.”

Barak’s office also issued a written response, saying that Barak has helped and will continue to aid nonpartisan political organizations that “work to advance the principles of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression and the defense of the values of the Israel Defense Forces” and that Barak will make use of these organization to further his work.

“Barak believes in the values of [Israel’s] Declaration of Independence, and in ‘security first,’ and that ‘the unity of the people’ and precedes ‘the unity of the land.’ All this in deeds, not words. Anyone who is prepared to get off his comfortable chair and work toward these goals will enjoy Barak’s support and assistance. This is true of Aharayut Leumit, about which you asked, as wells as many other groups that are working toward the same goals.”

In conclusion, the statement said Barak has “not changed his position of not planning at this point to engage in political activity in the framework of any of the parties in the Knesset.”