It’s hard to ignore the political breath of fresh air that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has brought into the election campaign. He’s sharp, focused, unfiltered, on the ball and aimed straight at the only goal for which he decided to return to politics – ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak has charged the center-left with new energy and created a new, surprising opening in the middle of a campaign that until now had seemed tired and sleepy.
Barak hasn’t proposed a unity government without Netanyahu or otherwise tried to entice Netanyahu’s Likud party. He has gone straight to the heart of the matter: Netanyahu dragged an entire country into early election to save his skin, created unprecedented political chaos that is counter to the public interest, and intensified his destructive games of incitement and division solely so that he could continue in power.
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It was easy to see the differences between Barak and Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz, who spoke just two hours before Barak’s announcement. Gantz doesn’t have Barak’s rhetorical skills, nor does he have the killer instinct, that “knife between the teeth” that shines forth from every word the former prime minister utters. Gantz prefers to repeat familiar mantras – unity, center, statesmanship. And it’s clear that Gantz would happily have foregone the upcoming election and formed a unity government with Likud if Netanyahu had agreed to leave politics.
Gantz voiced concerns on Wednesday about a possible split in the center-left. “Kahol Lavan is the largest party,” he said, “a large centrist bloc that can win only when it is united, joined together, strong and supported. Any split will undermine this chance.” He is right. Likud, of course, pounced on this gift and tried to paint Barak’s return as damaging to the center-left. “We won’t intervene in how Barak and Gantz divvy up their Knesset seats,” Likud officials said with sarcasm.
But Barak’s entry into the race, as long as it doesn’t turn into a bloody brawl between him and Kahol Lavan, is actually more likely to expand the center-left bloc. His plan to create a joint ticket with the Labor Party, and perhaps Meretz as well, could forge an effective left-wing front that, together with the center represented by Kahol Lavan, might well increase the number of seats the center-left bloc wins in the election.
To fulfill this mission, Gantz and Barak must keep in mind throughout the campaign that they have a shared goal, one that brought them both into politics at this stage of their lives – getting rid of Benjamin Netanyahu’s corrupt, destructive government.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.