Analysis

Barak, Reacting to Epstein Reports, Looked Almost Desperate – for Good Reason

Ties to billionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein could deliver a serious blow to former prime minister's political comeback

Ehud Barak speaking at a campaign rally in Tel Aviv for his Democratic Israel party on Wednesday.
Tomer Appelbaum

Ehud Barak came to an events hall in Tel Aviv Wednesday for a scheduled, supposedly festive party gathering, but it was no celebration or a joyous feast. It was an impulsive, self-pitying and almost desperate event, aimed at stopping the mudslide that was threatening his effort – his last, one assumes – to return to the political stage.

>> What Ehud Barak really wants, even if he won't admit it | Analysis

This mud has a name: Jeffrey Epstein, an American billionaire who was convicted over a decade ago of sexual offenses and was recently caught up in a sordid pedophilia case. He and Barak have business and social ties that don’t do Barak any credit but also don’t make him a crook or a collaborator.

The most recent development was the publication of pictures from three years ago that show Barak entering Epstein’s palatial New York home with his face covered by what looks like a scarf (because it was cold, Barak says). According to the British tabloid Daily Mail, a number of young women were also at the mansion that same day.

Epstein is also connected to the Wexner Foundation, which paid Barak $2.3 million for conducting a “study” of some kind for it that was never published. That issue is also weighing on Barak’s campaign.

As someone who knows Barak for many years, I would say it’s safe to bet that he would not have taken the risk of participating in an orgy with 20-year-olds at a time when everything makes its way to Instagram in the blink of an eye. The publication of the pictures in this fashion brings us back to March, to the stories about Benny Gantz and a complainant from his high school days or the lascivious videos that were allegedly on his cell phone, which was hacked by an unknown attacker. The well-greased rumor mill is still working and the fingerprints on it are as clear today as they were then.

Barak is fighting to stay relevant. He was firing in all directions on Wednesday. He called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son “A lecher and inciter, a parasite who gets Shin Bet protection.” Of Yaakov Litzman he said, “He’s a senior minister who is accused of serially covering up for pedophiles and he’s one of the closest people to Netanyahu.” He described Natan Eshel – yes the same “Smart Natan” as Barak often referred to him affectionately – as a “sex offender who was permanently removed from public service and continues to be [Netanyahu’s] confidante and government builder.” There were other similar pearls that haven’t been heard yet in these parts.

Barak’s goal is to be part of a united list with Labor and Meretz that will run in the coming election. Neither Labor leader Amir Peretz nor Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz are particularly thrilled, to say the least. The recent reports are further weakening the possibility, if there ever was one, that August 1 will find Barak running alongside those two.

The question remaining is, will Democratic Israel, which Barak heads, succeed in keeping its head above water and the electoral threshold and preserve the option of running independently, or will that initiative sink into the polluted waters of the Hudson River?