Ehud Barak Rejects Labor Leadership Bid, Seeing No Potential for Center-left Merger

Former party leader says he 'found a lot of will and good intentions' among potential political partners, but these 'have not yet matured' and he will not stand for election on January 24

Ehud Barak at the Israel Democracy Institute conference, Jerusalem, September 12, 2019.
Ehud Barak at the Israel Democracy Institute conference, Jerusalem, September 12, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced on Monday that he would not be running for Labor's leadership in the upcoming primary, citing unwillingness by center-left parties to unite ahead of Israel's March 23 election.

Last week, eight of 13 Labor Party board members asked Barak, who previously served as party leader, to run for its leadership.

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In the letter to Barak, the members of the board wrote that "There is a huge vacuum. There does not seem to be any other figure currently on the political map with your experience, leadership and national status who could succeed and rise to the task of leading a change in government."

In a Facebook post, Barak said he "found a lot of will and good intentions" among potential political partners, which "have not yet matured into any decision that can bring about this sort of bloc," which, together with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, Ron Huldai's The Israelis and Labor, "would be necessary in order to bring about a change of government."

Barak thanked party members for "the moving faith they have bestowed upon me," adding "a special thanks to the hundreds of [anti-Netanyahu] protest activists who have asked me to return. These are my partners in this unwavering struggle for Israel's image."

The former IDF chief of staff was party leader between 1997 and 2001, and then again between 2007 and 2011. He defeated Netanyahu to become prime minister of Israel between 1999 and 2001.

In polls seen by senior Labor officials, Barak's leadership is expected to add between five and seven seats to Labor's polling averages, saving the party from its projected failure to cross the electoral threshold. People close to Barak were impressed by the board's personal request, given that the board is a significant anchor of the party system.

Current party leader Amir Peretz announced last week that he would not run for the Knesset in the upcoming election.

While the party's attempt to enlist Barak failed, Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli is weighing a run for the leadership of the party. Lawmaker Merav Michaeli officially launched her campaign for party leadership Thursday evening.

This comes after outgoing leader Peretz pulled an appeal he made against a court decision to force the Labor Party to hold primaries. In November, the Labor Party conference, a restricted assembly of party officials that has consistently supported Peretz, decided that it would decide on the new party leader. Michaeli, along with 100 activists, filed a petition with the Tel Aviv District court to overturn the decision, an unusual move, which was successful.

Labor is likely to be the only party to hold primaries, which will take place on January 24. The elections for the Knesset slate will be held on February 1.

Haaretz reported on Wednesday that Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz had agreed to join forces with Labor if Welfare Minister Itzik became party leader. Although both parties are currently very low in the polls, they would ally substantial public funding - due to Kahol Lavan's large presence in the Knesset - with Labor's tried-and-tested organizational might.

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