Opinion

Despite All, Ehud Barak Could Still Change Israel

Nothing has been forgotten and no one is adopting Barak as the left’s old-new redeemer, but he can still do good by ruining Netanyahu’s image as the nation’s guardian and savior.

Ehud Barak speaking at the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

We are living in a new political era in which, in order to be elected prime minister, it is necessary to be as devoid of meaning as possible, to say something and its opposite in the same breath and to evince skill only in demagoguery, even if is clear that nothing is behind it.

The assumption that it is possible to tell the public anything under the sun and not pay a high political price for it turned out to have paid off in the last elections, a political cynicism that has trickled down to the electorate. As incomprehensible as it seems, today many admire deviousness and quarrel-mongering as worthy leadership traits and scorn the honest and principled.

And then along came Ehud Barak. To the questions of what he wants and who is behind the campaign he is conducting there is no answer as yet. If you ask him, he is “the third way,” only in a courageous version. In any case, it is exciting to watch a person with the behavior of someone who has nothing to lose.

At the moment, he is not stepping into the political arena and therefore he can shake it up from the outside. He appears to be enjoying it tremendously. Back in the last days of his government, Barak talked a lot about pulling off the mask. At the time it referred to Yasser Arafat; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is his new victim.

May God forgive me for quoting myself, but after Barak’s first attack at the Herzliya Conference, I wrote (in Hebrew): “From now on the mechanical tick-tock of the Barak clock is numbering the days of [Netanyau’s] regime, just as the crocodile that bit off his hand pursued Captain Hook.”

And indeed, Barak is waiting for Netanyahu around every corner; this time he has decided to go after the military aid agreement with the United States. Netanyahu thought it would be easy for him to depict the agreement as proof that his murky relationship with President Barack Obama hasn’t affected the administration’s generosity, but Barak embarked on a blitz in the American and local media, insisting that the agreement has in fact cost the state of Israel $7 billion.

We can cast suspicions on his motives but we cannot cast doubt on the depth of his knowledge, experience and understanding. Moreover, while Barak’s lightning bolts are directed at Netanyahu – and have been effective – they are also having an effect on other candidates for the post of prime minister. Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) has derived no joy from them. His faded hues pale even more with every one of Barak’s utterances in a television studio and he retreats to tweeting about matters of no importance.

Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid, proud signatory to the complete absence of the center-left camp, is catching some flack from the very fact of the display. As the defensive appearance by his colleague MK Ofer Shelah on the satirical program “Back of the Nation” testifies, all of a sudden he has an urgent need to try to justify the way he has crudely turned his back on all his previous declarations.

All those who insist on reminding us of Barak’s failures, of the damage his tenure did, of his cursed “no partner” that like an oil stain cannot be removed from the political discourse – can rest easy. Nothing has been forgotten and no one is adopting him as the left’s old-new redeemer.

However, if indeed Barak does succeed in ruining Netanyahu’s image as the nation’s guardian and savior, if he does succeed in finding an attentive ear among Likud voters and convincing them that Netanyahu’s deeds have damaged the national interest and that not only is it not the case that he has no replacement but also that a replacement must be found immediately who cannot be Herzog and certainly not Lapid – then at long last for many people, including himself, he will have realized an old dream that he left unfulfilled. He will have changed the face of this country more than he ever did as prime minister.