Ehud Barak's decision to leave the embattled Labor and set up his own faction has been welcomed by former colleagues as a long-awaited "chance to rebuild," after months of squabbling within the once all-powerful party.
Barak had faced challenges from senior Labor members and many supporters unhappy over his close ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He takes four of the 12 other Labor MKs with him to form Atzmaut (Independence), leaving Labor with eight lawmakers in the Knesset.
Herzog, who quit as social affairs minister within hours of Barak's announcement, praised the new developments and vowed to remain in Labor, and bring it back to its former political glory.
"Today is a day of positive change for the Labor Party," he said. "Barak's abandonment allows for a renewal of the party and its return to social action and true vision... I will pull together new and rejuvenated forces and turn [the party] into a true political alternative."
Meanwhile, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich lambasted Barak over the "corrupt and opportunist" way in which he chose to split from the party, a process she said was aimed solely at "saving [his own] seat in the coalition."
"Barak brought tragedy to the Labor Party, sullied it and broke it apart," said Yachimovich. "The name 'Independence' is no less cynical: independent of a platform, of values and obligations to the public, loyal to a [coalition] seat."
"More than anything, it has become clear today that we must recreate a social, democratic and sane Zionist party," Yachimovich added. "I will do everything in power to ensure that the Labor Party returns to being that alternative."
Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, who earlier this month demanded that Labor deliver an ultimatum to Netanyahu on remaining in the coalition, deemed Barak's decision another step in the "Labor Party's continuing crisis."
"The Labor Party does not depend on one person or another," he said. "This crisis gives us the chance to rebuild a strong movement. The Labor movement is on a new path."
Labor MK Eitan Cabel declared that Barak's decision "proved that these people have finally destroyed Labor," adding: "They must ask me and my colleagues for forgiveness."
"The significance of the announcement is dramatic, but certainly hasn’t knocked me off my seat," Cabel told Army Radio immediately after the first reports emerged. "I've been saying for more than two years that Labor is over."
Cabel told Israel Radio that he and his fellow Labor MKs Ghaleb Majadele, Daniel Ben Ben Simon and Amir Peretz had tried to expose what he called Barak's true face but were ultimately discounted due to the political infighting.
Cabel added that he would meet soon with those three MKs discuss their own future plans, emphasizing the importance of strengthening parties to the left of Kadima on the political spectrum.
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