Barak - Behaving oddly?
Photo: Alon Ron
Labor party in despair
Hopes aroused by Ehud Barak’s election as Labor party leader dashed

Several members of the Labor party’s Knesset faction couldn’t believe their eyes: Party Chairman Ehud Barak again did something completely inexplicable. Without advance warning, Barak broke away from the rightist path he took ahead of the Annapolis Conference and shifted to a Meretz-style leftist path. Nobody among the party’s leadership could understand what caused Barak to shift from lukewarm reactions to Annapolis to public support for an evacuation-compensation plan for West Bank settlers. Barak, for his part, didn’t bother to explain.


The general feeling among a growing group of senior Labor figures is that Barak is conducting himself oddly. More and more Knesset members are starting to feel despaired. They, who backed Barak’s election for party chairman, now feel his leadership is facing a crisis, or alternately, doesn’t exist at all.


Behind closed doors, they are complaining about Barak, criticizing his conduct, and even going as far as predicting that he will not be elected as prime minister. In private conversations some of them even claimed that “Barak doesn’t want the post bad enough.”


Indeed, the Labor party leader is behaving strangely: He takes decisions on his own, shifts Labor from Right to Left without advance notice, barely listens to anyone, and doesn’t do the only thing he’s supposed to do – be a uniting leader that leads the party up the polls. Did we already mention despair?


Barak embarked on his tenure as defense minister with a relatively cohesive group of people around him wanting the best for him. On the one hand there were people like attorney Eldad Yaniv, who contributed several months of his life in order to make Barak party chairman. On the other hand there was a group of young and energetic politicians, including Knesset Members Ophir Pines, Eitan Cabel and others, who thought there was somebody to talk to.


However, Barak quickly became engrossed with the demanding work at the Defense Ministry, and many of those around him started sensing that their advice was no longer desired. Some of them claim that in recent weeks the chairman has been arriving at party meetings distracted and not quite in command of the material; not quite interested in what’s going on around him.


The fight against the reforms proposed by the justice minister is managed by Eitan Cabel, while Yuli Tamir is stuck with the education crisis. Everyone else was stuck with the Annapolis Conference. In short, Barak was the only one who did not have a clear position for a long time on any of those issues.


‘No longer hungry’

Regarding his position on Annapolis, for example, Barak took his decisions alone or after consulting with elements whose existence he keeps to himself. His lukewarm attitude to the conference, which met broad public criticism in the leftist camp, was formulated in contradiction to the advice of some of his close advisors. Eldad Yaniv, for example, pulled out the hair still left on his head when he saw his “client” breaking to the Right and engaging in a widely reported clash with the prime minister.


The same was true for the announcement regarding the promotion of the evacuation-compensation law for Judea and Samaria residents. Few heard about the direction Barak intended to take on the subject before it made it to the media, and even fewer people shared their views regarding the wisdom of that move.


And that’s not all. Earlier this week, Ynet reported about harsh words leveled at Barak by senior party officials in closed-door sessions. “We want you to be prime minister more than you want to,” they told him. The same officials explained that recently they started sensing that Barak “lost the desire to fight for being a prime minister. He is no longer hungry and feels comfortable where he is now.”


About six months after being elected to lead the Labor party, Ehud Barak, who returned to the political arena on the back of minimal hope on the one hand and existential fears on the other, is finding it difficult to deliver the goods. About six of the 19 Labor Knesset members are really angry at him, while others are frustrated and disappointed.


It is possible that as is customary in the Labor party, we are again seeing the regular routine of eliminating the elected leader. Yet on the other hand, we should not rule out the possibility that the roots of the despair overcoming the party are deeper. We must recall that all this is happening even before we reached the Winograd Commission’s final report, and the mess that would follow what looks like Labor’s expected stay in the government.


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