Barak Willing to Take Tenth Spot on Slate as Talks on Broad Left-wing Union Continue

Labor members in talks with former PM and Meretz, despite chairman's commitment not to join forces ■ Barak wants first dibs on ministerial portfolio in joint slate

Ehud Barak speaks at a campaign launch event in Tel Aviv, July 17, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak met Tuesday overnight with Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and Labor lawmaker Stav Shaffir, who is reportedly considering leaving her party, to discuss a possible broad left-wing slate ahead of Israel's September 17 election.

Several other prominent Labor members are also said to be considering joining Shaffir, who lost the party's leadership to Amir Peretz in an early July vote.

One of them is Itzik Shmuli, who also ran in the party's primary election and took to Twitter on Wednesday to say "Labor Party is dear to me, but I fundamentally disagree with the line picked for it," adding "a broad union … can still be reached." However, he has denied he would quit the party if it runs alone.

During the meeting, Barak said he was willing to be placed on the 10th spot of the joint slate, in a bid to gain other parties' trust and avoid personal quarrels over who would lead the union, but asked that he would be the first to pick a ministerial portfolio should they enter government after election.

Some other Democratic Israel candidates would be placed higher on the joint ticket.

Stav Shaffir and Ehud Barak during a pro-LGBTQ protest in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

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Speaking at a parlor meeting in central Israel, Barak warned on Wednesday that “without joining forces, the Netanyahu regime would stay in power. I call on Meretz, Labor and Kahol Lavan to unite and concentrate on replacing the Netanyahu regime.”

Labor's Shaffir is expected to be part of any joint left-wing ticket and could even possibly lead it, even if her party remains out of it, following Peretz's commitment not to join forces with any other parties after he announced a merger with Orli Levi-Abekasis' Gesher party last week.

However, Democratic Israel officials believe that in the case that many Labor members would want to leave the party in favor of joining forces with Democratic Israel and Meretz, Peretz would have no choice but enter the union, too.

Parties have until August 1 to formally register their slates with Israel's Central Elections Committee.

A source with intimate knowledge of the negotiations said on Wednesday that Horowitz was hesitant to accept Barak's offer to join forces, fearing resistance from within his own party due to Barak's relations with convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein, as well as the former prime minister's problematic image in the eyes of the Arab public.

Despite Horowitz's attempts at convincing Barak to drop out of the race altogether in the hope that such a move would help Meretz regain popularity among left-wing voters, the latter isn't expected to heed. On Wednesday he vowed “not to quit the fight for this country.”

Horowitz told Army Radio on Wednesday it was "still too early to go into details, it's a complex issue to us, being an ideological party." According to him, "We have to discuss everything … I want to ensure that whoever votes for the left gets exactly that the day after."

"It bothers me as a leftist that Amir Peretz crashed any possibility of a major left-wing union," he added. "My sole aim is to make sure the left, and not the soft right, is represented in the next Knesset in the strongest, most influential way, and that's what leads me in looking into mergers."