Why Ehud Barak Should Be Israel's Next Prime Minister

The former Labor Party leader represents the way Israelis want to see themselves: militaristic, financially successful, straight-talking and not too spoiled.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
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Ehud Barak speaking at the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016.
Ehud Barak speaking at the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

Ehud Barak can and should be Israel’s leader. This is true even though he didn’t lead us to that new day whose dawn he declared in his 1999 victory speech at Rabin Square (when the masses chanted “Just not Shas,” imploring him not to include the ultra-Orthodox party in his coalition), and even though he did not reach a broad agreement on the core issues – the occupation and the relation between religion and state. But given the bitter fruit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric and actions, Barak’s the right person.

At Camp David in 2000, Barak did not achieve a mutual declaration on the end of the conflict with the Palestinians. But today, the question is not about ending the conflict but removing Netanyahu. The end of the conflict will come probably in the form of one homeland for two states and the free movement of citizens.

Ever since David Ben-Gurion, leaders have left and returned, and left again. The question is whether Barak can be elected in place of Netanyahu. If he can, it’s possible that the swinging pendulum can be stopped.

This is what is needed now, and it will be possible through the formation of a new party. Even if this effort has been made in the past and failed (Kadima, for example, in the mid-2000s), it’s the only logical process to save Israel’s democratic regime from collapse. The right-wing public – including the settler, security-minded, chauvinist public that champions Jewish supremacy over secular citizenship – will accept Barak’s authority, as it accepted Ariel Sharon’s authority in his time.

Barak can become prime minister again because he represents the way Israelis want to see themselves: militaristic, financially successful, straight-talking and not too spoiled. When asked by Channel 2 television about the hipster beard he’s been sporting of late, he gave a typical response: “I assume all of you here except for you [Dafna Liel] would grow something similar if you didn’t shave for a few months.” It was a funny answer, in keeping with Barakian rhetoric.

One can’t imagine Netanyahu, who looks wooden and older than his age, answering such a question this way. But what’s important is not just Barak’s frank, smart-alecky and charming Israeliness, but his comments last week about a leader who has “gone off the rails.”

It’s hard to believe that his decision to say that the roots of fascism have taken hold in Israel was made on the spur of the moment. It was an important, significant and frightening statement. Such words must be given weight.

Barak is not lily-white. His murky relations with his colleagues in the Labor Party – whom he abandoned in favor of an alliance with Netanyahu in an act of political survival – left behind a lot of scorched earth.

But the summer of 2016 is the summer of the generals’ protest, even if the Israeli left isn’t so thrilled by its generals. And it’s certainly better than the politics of those middle-of-the-road types with no backbone, like singer Shlomo Artzi and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

Both leftist voters who hold their nose when they vote and those who vote for reasons of Realpolitik can support such a party as Barak’s.

Barak, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and others will hook up with Tzipi Livni to create a wave of political protest that will lead to a no-confidence vote, to new elections, and the establishment of a stable centrist government that will seek a permanent arrangement with the Palestinian Authority. A pipe dream? Another bend in the road leading to fascism? Not necessarily. As Barak said, Netanyahu has recognized that the countdown to the end of his premiership has begun. The days of his rotting rule are numbered.



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