This is what Ehud Barak had to say during the meeting of Labor MKs on Friday: "I will not leave the government just because of critical colleagues. It has been our experience in the past that we have left the government at the wrong time, and I am the one who will decide when and how we will leave the government. I will leave it when I think we stand a chance to win."
This is what he said - and no one commented on the moral validity of the justification he used. Even Ophir Pines-Paz made do with a complaint about the exaggerated satisfaction Barak is displaying, without focusing his criticism on the fact that the chairman of his party is violating his commitment to leave the government when the final report of the Winograd Committee is published.
What is irritating about what Barak said three days ago is his motivation: He spoke out of personal and party interest, not as someone for whom the best interest of the country is central to his agenda. He didn't say that the most pressing affairs of state require Labor to stay in the coalition; he did not argue that his conclusion, six months ago, that led him to declare that Ehud Olmert is not worthy of being prime minister, has been tempered by the new facts he learned since becoming defense minister; he also did not say that the situation has changed in a radical way and now requires that Labor put aside all other considerations in order to have a hand in managing the country.
No - he spoke in terms of what is most worthwhile: It is best for Labor not to leave the government at this time, otherwise the political cost may be too high.
In so doing, Barak is leading his party's institutions to the level of the Likud Party Central Committee four or five years ago, which became a revolting marketplace in which dealing in votes and jobs was carried out openly for all to see. Experience has shown that when the motive is purely selfish, the line separating what is good for the party and personal benefits sought by the party leadership becomes distorted. The way Barak is conducting himself, his party may find itself at the same low point where the Likud was on the eve of the last elections: crushed, lacking proper governance, and undergoing a rushed revision of the audacious rules of the game that were in place.
It would have been possible to wrap his personal motives and party-related calculations in a more attractive package, and to present his inclination to remain part of the Olmert government with more appealing arguments. He could have talked about the chances to achieve a settlement with the Palestinians, or the serious security challenges the country is facing, or the public's desire for political stability. But he did not. Instead, he expressed his direct views: It is not worthwhile for the party to break up the coalition at this time.
In so doing, Barak assumed that this is what his party colleagues want to hear - that this is the argument they can appreciate. He used it without sensing how cynically, morally and publically unacceptable it is. Of course, he will recover: In the near future he will use explanations of matters of state to justify his decision to stay in government, in spite of his unequivocal declaration at Sdot Yam to help topple the coalition after the final Winograd report is published.
Except that the arguments that Barak will put forth in a month's time, when the report is expected to be released, will be weighed in terms of the utilitarian ideas he set out before his party last Friday. When the comparison is made, their public reliability will be measured. The Likud learned that at the end of the day, the public keeps score on those whom it votes for, and will not let itself be toyed with forever.
When the interim Winograd report was released, Barak concluded that Olmert is not capable of running the affairs of the state. He joined the government, after he was elected as Labor head, to fill the position of defense minister, knowing that this is an emergency measure, a temporary one. The act of reneging on his commitment to leave the government or to bring about the creation of an alternative government will come back and bite him and his party - and no public apology will help.
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