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SHOCK MOVE • Barak quits Labor • Labor quits coalition

+972 is covering the dramatic split of the Labor party. Key updates: Barak leaves party and remains defence minister, forming a separate faction together with 4 mid-level Labor MKs  * New faction to be known as Atzmaut, or Independence * Move reportedly orchestrated with Netanyahu * ALL LABOR MINISTERS HAVE RESIGNED OR LEFT THE PARTY*  LABOR AT HISTORIC LOW WITH 8 SEATS OUT OF 120

Wrap up: Labor party has split into two, with 5 MKs leaving the party but staying in the Likud-led coalition, and 8 staying in the party but leaving the government, in a shock move orchestrated by Labor leader and Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Likud leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak set off the demolition charges by leaving the party and establishing a new parilamentary faction, to be known as Atzmaut – Independence; this was quickly followed by the resignation of the ministers who weren’t invited on board, slightly helped by Netanyahu’s promise to fire them if they didn’t resign. We are likely to see the emergence of candidates to succeed Barak within what’s left of Labor; as Ben Eliezer said he won’t run and is yet to prove otherwise, the candidates are Herzog, Yachimovich and leader of the country’s Federation of Workers Unions, the Histadrut, Ofer Eini.

With the party bereft of its two generals – Barak and Vilnai – Labor’s main leverage becomes socio-economical, and union baron Eini becomes the undisputed kingmaker. It’s too early to guess the constellations – maybe Eini will make a bid for leadership himself, and maybe – if he’s wiser than that – he’ll support Yachimovich or Herzog as leader and stand behind their throne as an Éminence Grise.

A third possibility is some external leadership figure will be imported into the party; most recently, there was talk of bringing back former Labor leader and retired general Amram Mitzna. It still makes sense to some degree – every centrist party in Israel needs a general – but Mitzna’s prospects are dampened by three contentions: Yachimovich’s power base of young students and moderate feminists will find another old white military male as leader hard to stomach; last time Mitzna succeeded Barak as Labor leader he lost the elections to Ariel Sharon and ignominiously resigned; and, finally, his summons to the party this time was Barak’s idea.

I’m pulling out of live blogging for the time being, but stay tuned for more of in-depth analysis of today’s events by the +972 bloggers. Scroll down to read events as they unfolded, this time in proper chronological order.

13:30. Background: Early this morning, Ehud Barak took a daring leap into oblivion by resigning as chairman of the Labor party and taking 4 MKs to start a new parliamentary faction.  It is widely speculated the Labor ministers  left out of the ploy will either resign or be dismissed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (, and their portfolios will be handed out to Barak’s acolytes. The new faction, which is aimed solely at remaining dependent on Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s good graces for portfolios, will be called Ha-Atzmaut – Independence.

Barak has been facing growing discontent within the party ranks from day one, but this was exacerbated over the past year, when it became clear the party had zero leverage in the government and that the “peace process,” for which it ostensibly joined the coalition, was a corpse. The very decision to join was hotly contested from the start, with vociferous backbenchers forming rebel groups within the parliamentary faction. Although for most of the two years the rebels were as impotent as they were loud, their mere presence signalled to young rank and file that there was an alternative to the Barak leadership, and there were persistent rumors in the past weeks the rebels were about to regroup and try a coup.

Barak’s move this morning was a clever, if desperate, check-mate to those who wanted to oust him from party leadership. He seized the initiative and grabbed the active role in the story, simultaneously cutting off the incumbent ministers of the Labor party, powerful allies who could turn rivals as the wind changed. Instead, he chose to make a new faction with a group of four middle to junior level politicos: His loyal deputy Matan Vilnai (who recently told reporters he got confused and voted in favour of investigating leftist NGOs “by mistake”), MK Einat Wilf (who supports elementary school privatisation), MK Orit Noked (who?), and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon. Simchon has bid this year to lead the Jewish National Foundation, but the transition between his role as Agriculture Minister and chairmanship of the largest land-owning organisation in the country was deemed to pose too much conflict of interest even for such high-level politics.

The trouble with that very smart move is that Barak is one of the most widely despised figures in Israeli politics. He is seen as corrupt, megalomaniac, irresponsible and devoid of principle; the Right sees the  unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon he engineered in 1999 as a political and military disaster, which led to the equally disastrous unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War;  the Left sees him as a huge disappointment, with a great share of responsibility for the collapse of the peace talks and the start of the Second Intifada in 2000; conservatives see him as spineless, liberals see him as a bully; for once, all of the above appear to be correct.

In their press conference the splitter faction announced that life in the Labor party has become “unbearable” of late, that there was no discipline, and that it’s been “drifting leftwards to post-Zionism and post-Modernity” (sic). MK Wilf bemoaned that some of her Labor party colleagues wanted to take the party “left of Kadima,” while she wanted to “retain the Ben Gurion and Mapai legacy.” The already ridiculous tussle for the mythological Israel centre reached an apogee: Kadima split from Likud in 2005 to bid for the centre, which it estimated to be two degrees leftwards; now Labor is splitting to bid to the right of Kadima.

Ynet had the early dibs on reporting that the move was orchestrated together with Netanyahu, and indeed we saw the split being confirmed by the House Committee thanks to the support of the right-wing members. The scenario for the next 24 hours appears to be laid out: All the ministers not on board Barak’s escape raft will either resign or get fired, and Netanyahu will replace them with Barak’s motley crew. Labor will then leave the coalition, which can afford to lose 10 MKs, especially as those 10 are expected to spend the rest of current parliamentary session  in a bitter feud amongst themselves for policy and leadership. Indeed, the issue of party discipline was a momentous one in the split in the first place, and it’s unlikely the Labor leftovers will be able to impose it any time soon.

In the short term, it seems everybody wins – Netanyahu retains coalition and gets rid of the loose canons in the Labor party; Barak retains the only thing he cares about – power; and the remainder of the Labor party get to play opposition. But in the long term, neither part of the split Labor is likely to fare well in the next elections. I don’t think Barak will even run on his own – he knows he’s unelectable; he might instead start a new party with all or some of the Likud or Kadima. The Labor leftovers’ chances don’t seem much better. For those who have some illusions about Labor’s potential, today might seem reinvigorating. But unless a major and cataclysmic young guard revolt takes place and drags it to 5-10 seats in the next parilament, Labor seems poised to vanish from Israeli politics.

14:00. Minority Affairs Minister Avishai Braverman resigns.

14:20. Shas grapples for Herzog’s portfolio; National Left to become a party and run for Knesset Shas leader, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, told Walla!News that as his party carries the flag of welfare, they will request to receive departing minister Herzog’s Social Affairs portfolio. Walla!News also reports that Eldad Yaniv until recently legal adviser to the settlement of Ariel and leader of the National Left, a semi-grassroots centrist movement, said in a private lecture yesterday the NL will run as a “Zionist, centrist” party in the next elections. NL’s main tenants, apart from enough self-righteousness to sink a steamer,  is pretty repugnant scape-goating of settlers for everything that went wrong with good old Israel, and stubborn refusal to seriously engage with Palestinian Israelis. Because of these endearing traits it was widely expected to join either Labor or Kadima, but it seems the die, for the moment, is cast in favour of an independent run.

14:35. Benjamin Ben Eliezer (see 14:00 update) also quits his post as Industry, Trade and Infrastructure Minister. I’m still a little bewildered by why Barak didn’t take this dyed-in-the-wool loyalist with him; my guess is that he either wanted a promotion – maybe to replace Vilnai – and didn’t get it, or stays behind as a Barakist to mess up the post-split internal fight even more.

14:45. Labor party young guard: We are getting hundreds of calls from people asking to join the party. Even if true, I’d take it with a pinch of salt – first, because we already had a brief revival when Amir Peretz ousted Peres, and it ended disastrously; second, because these new recruits will immediately be drafted into the internal rivalry camps already forming.

14:55. Mid-day quip parade. Retired and much missed former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni quips that the only resemblance between Barak and David Ben Gurion is their height. Avrum Burg, formerly a Knesset Speaker for Labor, said it was a socialist party led by capitalists. A senior Labor advisor told activists this morning Barak’s new domain could be called “Akirov faction”, after the luxurious towers in which the minister resides. Tzipi Livni says that Labor’s implosion will be followed by that of the government. I think she’s wrong, but then, I usually do. Remains to be seen.

15:00. Ben Eliezer says he has no intention to run for party leader. Can this be believed, or is it a mere “I have no such ambitions, but if my friends insist, I will reluctantly take up the heavy burden…” schpiel a-la the Yes, Minister Christmas Special? We’ll see as the day progresses.

15:05. Netanyahu announces he has started “coalition talks” with the newly formed Atzmaut faction.

15:10. It’s official: Elvis has left the building. The Labor party, which is similarly dead to all except the most devoted fans, is no longer in the coalition. Two ministers and one deputy have left the party, to form a new faction; Three ministers resigned.

15:50. Netanyahu praises Labor split: “The coalition has grown stronger.” And he’s probably right: If a coup inside Labor had taken place and the entire party was forced into opposition, he’d have lost 13 MKs. This way, he only lost 8, and the 5 that remain are completely indebted to him. Incidentally, this is a shocking historic low for the once-leading party of Israeli politics: 8 seats out of 120.

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    1. Ben Eliezer is not a Barak fan for quite long now, and was working actively to replace him.
      Actually, it seems like the immediate reason for the split is Ben Eliezer working to gather the party bureau, in order to replace Barak

      Reply to Comment
    2. Dimi Reider

      Really? To me it always seemed as if apart from the occasional leadership tussle, BE supported Barak’s every move. Of course, you need to get behind a person before you can stab him in the back, but still..

      Reply to Comment
    3. In the past few weeks – since the ‘Ahabal’ incident – both Einy and Ben Eliezer activly work to impeach Barak.
      to my understanding, BE moved his allegiance to Einy, and since Einy figures that Barak finishing the Labor leaves him with no party to occupy, they both turned against Barak.

      Reply to Comment
    4. I love the names that they use to create new parties (Kadima, Hazmaut, Koah HaKesef , Lehem, Tkuma, etc, etc). Sadly Hilarious.
      Talking about Labor, what we can say?
      A party who toured the settlements like a picnic for his members (and I dont want to talk about his past in building them) is a twin brother of Moledet, with different clothes but the same soul.

      Reply to Comment
    5. I’m not very glad with my position here as the advocate of the labor party, but in the abovementioned visit, the person who pledged loyalty to the settlements is Hilik Bar, one of the most devoted supporters of Barak, I am certain that we can say ‘good riddance’ on him, too.

      Reply to Comment
    6. ” Retired and much missed former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni quips that the only resemblance between Barak and David Ben Gurion is their height. ”

      much missed indeed , still gets straight to the point tho

      ‘good riddance’ on them all.. the short and the tall , betrayed all of us

      bring on the elections , time for a new Left !!

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Israel

      When Sharon betrayed his promise to his voters not to destroy Gush Katif, the Left cheered him for sticking it to the people they don’t like. Now, when Barak does the same to his voters, suddenly the Left gets concerned about political ethics. What makes anyone think a “new Left” party will be any different?
      The Left is very badly divided. The only thing that unites them is hatred for Lieberman and the settlers. Some are anarchists, some are anti-Zionists (saying that the creation of Israel was wrong), some are pro-Zionists (saying that giving the Palestinians a state will save Israel), some are socialists, somre are capitalists, some are anti-globalists, some are pro-globalists, many are Jews but some are Arabs (why don’t MERETZ voters vote for HADASH instead?).
      A platform that is anti-settler and anti-Lieberman is essentially negative and non-constructive, so no healthy political, social or economic movements can come out of such an amalgam.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Branko

      “why don’t MERETZ voters vote for HADASH instead”

      they do. Meretz lost two seats and Hadash gained one, compared to the previous elections.

      Reply to Comment
    9. 60 years ago President Eisenhower in his farewell speech, warned against the military/ big business combo. Barak combines the very worst of both in one small body with an out sized ego. We should have expected no better.

      Reply to Comment
    10. The term ‘napoleon complex’ seems to be tailor made to Barak.
      I wonder if we’ll ever come up with the hebrew equivalent…

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      It is interesting that you quoted Shulamit Aloni. If you recall, she was head of MERETZ and was ousted by Yossi Sarid. While she was the head of the party, Sarid announced that the he would challenge her for the leadership. Instead of having an election, shortly after Sarid’s announcement, there were news items about irregularities she was involved with in her capacity as Minster of Education. She got the messsage and dropped out of the race, and Sarid was, Soviet-style, elected unopposed. This was another example of the Israeli “get something on him!” mentality.
      Thus, it is no wonder that the Left is in the mess it is stuck in, as result of its sick political culture.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Shalom Ben Israel

      I have read what you have to say to me , can we be honest with each other ?
      I am a left wing post-zionist , I used to vote Meretz but now I’m with Hadash and unless there is a dramatic change before the next elections I don’t see myself ever returning to Meretz or to any other Zionist party .

      I’m waiting to see what comes of this from Avraham Burg :
      ref: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-new-party-of-good-tidings-1.303537

      but I doubt even he will move me from Hadash

      now why don’t you tell me what party you support ?

      as for what you have to say about Shulamit , nothing you or anyone else has to say will ever change the amount of respect I have for her and for her political views

      ” Thus, it is no wonder that the Left is in the mess it is stuck in, as result of its sick political culture ”

      if you say so , ever seen this ? :

      now how sick is that ?

      Reply to Comment
    13. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4015139,00.html

      this is the “new Left” I was referring to Ben Israel …

      “” Say it clearly: Full Jewish-Arab partnership, without any “buts.” Democracy for all citizens. A complete end to the occupation, without any deals and sophisticated formulae, without blocs, and without leftovers. And a truly social economy. Turn your backs to Barak and establish the Labor-Meretz-Hadash coalition. Embark on a new path. A large leftist bloc against all the rest. Then we’ll see how well they fare against us “”

      so what do you think ?

      Reply to Comment
    14. Ben Israel

      When I was referring to the “sick political culture of the Left” I was being imprecise. What I meant to say was that Israel has a sick political culture. This culture came from the Left (i.e. the original ruling groups: MAPAI-MAPAM and the Leftist General Zionists) because they were in power already before the state was formed and they defined the political culture. This is a culture that comes out of the Eastern European Marxist/socialist world. This means that there is a feeling that only “we” have a right to be in power, the opposition is inherently illegitimate, any means fair or foul are legitimate in the struggle for power in order to maintain “our” control, slander and name-calling are legitimate forms of political warfare, and the resources of the state and the money of the taxpayer by rights belongs to “us” since “we” (supposedly) set up the state and have the right to take what we want.

      Unfortunately, this mentality infected other political trends in Israel and Israel will not really develop a healthy political culture until this mentality within the ruling groups changes. I don’t see anything of the sort on the horizon.

      Regarding to the “New Left” you referred to, do you really want a socialist economy (as opposed to a capitalist welfard state)? The stagnation and corruption under the MAPAI-MAPAM-HISTRADRUT socialist was terrible, and the quality of life for most Israelis improved as they began to dismantle it (they haven’t completed the job yet).

      Reply to Comment
    15. Kibbutznik

      Ben Israel

      you are not being open or honest with me
      I asked you ” now why don’t you tell me what party you support ? ”

      I am not ready to answer any more questions until you specify where you stand politicaly .

      ” and Israel will not really develop a healthy political culture until this mentality within the ruling groups changes. ”

      would not describe us at Hadash as within the ruling group also I was born here not in Europe and long after the State was founded .

      How about you ?

      are you truly a son of Israel or perhaps American born ?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ben Israel

      Okay Kibbutznik, I’ll tell you. I was born in the US and educated at UCLA. We made aliyah in the 1980’s. I am Orthodox/Religious (hozer b’teshuva), consider myself a Zionist in the way of Rav Kook and I voted for the Ihud HaLeumi-National Union. There, I laid it all out for you. Are you still speaking to me?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Yes Ben Israel I will still speak to you.
      poles apart are we tho
      I’m atheist , hashomer hatzair roots and a member of Gush Shalom .

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ben Israel

      Pleased to make your acquaintance. If you don’t mind me asking, could you tell me at least in what decade you were born? I am aware that HaShomer HaTzair had a very strong ideology that they worked hard to impress on the next generation (I read an article about Meir Ya’ari’s son who pointed this out) but I was under the impression that those who were born into the system tended to go their own way. From what you say, you seem to be have remained firmly within the ideological world of HaShomer HaTzair, although they were (and still are) a Zionist movement but you define yourself as not being a Zionist.

      Reply to Comment
    19. born 1960
      I have always gone my own way , I still live on a HaShomer HaTzair kibbutz altho it is nothing now like it was once
      I define myself as a post Zionist and as an Israeli Ben Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    20. BlightUntoNations

      ………………………………………………………………….”I am Orthodox/Religious (hozer b’teshuva), consider myself a Zionist in the way of Rav Kook and I voted for the Ihud HaLeumi-National Union.” Out here in the real world, we call that a demented NUT. Israel has collected nuts like you the way some people collect exotic stamps. Sure, you can find ultra orthodox in New York City. They emerge from their zombie nests and parade around. We endure them here as we endure the Moonies, tea partiers and all the other assorted crazies. Only in Israel however, are such people actually taken seriously.

      Reply to Comment
    21. BlightUntoNations

      ……………………………………….What would a great Jew like Albert Einstein say about the appropriately named Rav Kook and his cosmology of transparent lunacy? You DO realize the world views you all as dangerous psychotics and riff raff, don’t you Ben?

      Reply to Comment
    22. ben israel- just thought id mention my fascination not with mr, kook but with his wonderful wife.
      quite the inspiration.
      i have an estonian friend that saw this movie at a film festival in estonia, years back.
      we jews make quite the impression dont we.

      Reply to Comment
    23. BlightUntoNations

      These kind of comments are completely uncalled for , and if you feel the need to insult someone at least get your facts straight :
      he is not ultra orthodox .

      Reply to Comment
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