Barak Vows to Continue on as Labor Chair Despite Bid to Outflank Him

Infrastructure Minister Ben-Eliezer and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, two of Labor's big bosses, spoke out against the defense minister's leadership the night before.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared Thursday that he would remain chairman of the Labor Party, despite efforts of two senior party members to keep him from vying for the leadership at the next election.

Barak's remarks came hours after he canceled a scheduled meeting with Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who told an activists' gathering in Ramat Gan the evening before that only an outside leader could save the party.

Ehud Barak
Tomer Appelbaum

Ben-Eliezer was not alone in his bid to outflank the Labor chairman; as he addressed the crowd, Channel 2 news ran a promo for an interview with Histadrut chief Ofer Eini, another senior Labor boss.

In that interview, Eini summed up the affair concerning Barak and Nili Priell's illegal Filipina housekeeper with one sharp sentence that seemed geared toward ending the defense minister's career:

"[If] you're a minister, what are you [doing] bringing a Filipina home? What are you, an idiot?"

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.

Barak's bureau said in a statement following the incidents that: "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."

In an interview with Israel Radio on Thursday, the Labor chairman accused his two colleagues of "stirring the pot" within the party.

"There is freedom of speech and there is freedom of stirring the pot," Barak said. "I am not blind and I was not born yesterday. Those who coordinate against the best interest of the party will have to pay a price."

"The Labor Party has regulations," the party chairman added. "These are rules set by the party members, not in a television interview with Eini or a conference with Fuad [Ben-Eliezer]."

Barak lambasted the two for criticizing his leadership, saying: "There has never been quiet, not even in the time of [Yitzhak] Rabin and [Shimon] Peres]."

Referring directly to Eini's comments about the illegal housekeeper, Barak said: "Hiring her was a mistake, and my wife admitted that mistake 10 months ago," adding: "My involvement in the case was blown out of proportion."

The defense minister went on to say that he would not respond to Eini's "inappropriate style", adding it was "unworthy of public discourse."

"I am sure that Eini and his family members also make mistakes," he said.