barak - Tomer Appelbaum - November 4 2010
Ehud Barak. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Daniel Bar-On
Ofer Eini. Photo by Daniel Bar-On

In a sharply executed and perfectly timed pincer movement, Labor's two big bosses outflanked Ehud Barak yesterday and probably destroyed his political career. From now on, the defense minister is working on borrowed time.

Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer will do whatever they can to prevent Barak from running for Labor's leadership in the next elections. His fate is sealed. His sandglass is running out. Another year, more or less, and then he'll have to move aside. Or be moved. But for whom?

The two men are looking for a leader from outside the party. A deus ex machina who'll fall from the sky and infuse new life into the corpse that is the Labor party. One thing is certain, the individual they'll bring in will be legal, and not Filipino.

Eini and Ben-Eliezer are good friends; they meet regularly for long tete-a-tetes. They do not have a favorable opinion of Barak - certainly not as party leader. Last night, at an activists' gathering he held in Ramat Gan, Ben-Eliezer said only an outside leader could save the party.

So who is that leader? Ben-Eliezer is still looking. If it were up to him, he would appoint outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as next Labor chairman - the same Ashkenazi who is fighting Barak tooth and nail over the Galant affair.

As Ben-Eliezer addressed the crowd, Channel 2 news ran a promo for an interview with Eini. The latter summed up the affair concerning Ehud Barak and Nili Priell's Filipina housekeeper with one sharp sentence: "[If] you're a minister, what are you [doing] bringing a Filipina home? What are you, an idiot?"

The thousands of words already written on the subject could not have put it more succinctly. How is it that nobody thought of this earlier? The "idiot" will certainly enter the pantheon of political expressions.

Eini went on to remark, with feigned nonchalance, that Labor has no leader who can pick it up off the floor. Like Ben-Eliezer, he said the answer is somewhere out there. He does not mean himself, though, he has too much to lose if he runs for Labor's leadership (and if he is elected, heaven forbid ).

Not only did Eini and Ben-Eliezer hang Barak out to dry, they also managed to crush the other two main contenders: Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman. "Everyone's become Rabin's heir," said Ben-Eliezer. Eini added: "There are nice people there, but they won't make it."

So what's next for Labor? Eini and Ben-Eliezer will try to dictate the party's future moves. They will try to be the kingmakers, the go-to guys. They share control over the party convention, which will set the date for the next party primaries. When the convention is called, their influence will be decisive.

Meanwhile, Herzog and Braverman will try to recover from yesterday's blow. One immediate result will be putting off Labor's quitting the government. Barak and Ben-Eliezer want to stay. As long as they do, Braverman and Herzog will not be able to drag the party out from the government.

Herzog was the first to pull himself together yesterday. "They have no leader from outside the party," he said dismissively. "And if they do, he is welcome. Anyone is welcome to join us... This party has already taken in so many messiahs from outside, maybe it's time to change the [routine] and choose someone from inside. I intend to run and win."

Barak's bureau said in a statement: "The defense minister intends to continue leading his party and to act as defense minister to achieve peace and security for Israel. The rest will be sorted out within Labor's institutions, not at gatherings and television interviews."

The event at which Ben-Eliezer announced the end of Barak's role as Labor chairman was largely financed by the Labor party and authorized by outgoing party managing director, and Barak's close associate, Weizmann Shiri.