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Israel election: Barak vows never to sit in Netanyahu government

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak [Ynhockey/Wikipedia]

Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel who recently announced he will run in the country’s upcoming general election, has vowed never to sit in a government headed by incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv yesterday, Barak claimed the goal of his as-yet-unnamed party is “to bring Israel back on track and topple the Netanyahu regime,” the Times of Israel reported. Barak continued:

We will not sit with [Netanyahu] in the same government under any circumstances or in any way. We will join together to bring him down and after his departure we will sit with all those who agree with […] our outlook: a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state.

His comments came shortly after party number two – former Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Israeli army, Yair Golan – suggested during an Haaretz podcast that the party would be open to cooperating with Netanyahu.

“My basic tendency is to say that we aren’t entering [a Netanyahu coalition],” Golan explained, “but it isn’t right to deal with speculation.” The party number two added: “We’ll wait and see what the alternatives are [but] usually in life you choose between the lesser of two evils.”

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Barak also conditioned joining a coalition on the cancellation of the Haredi draft law, which seeks to conscript ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, a duty from which they are currently exempt.

Disagreements over the law proved insurmountable in coalition negotiations following April’s general election. Former Defence Minister and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, refused to back down, opting instead to deprive Netanyahu of the majority needed to form a government rather than see the law altered.

The Haredi draft law looks likely to be a crucial election issue once again as 17 September draws near. Barak claims he plans to replace the proposed law with an “integration plan” which would see the Israeli army draft “those interested in serving, and in accordance with its needs”, while those choosing not to serve would be recruited to do what Barak called “national civil service”.

This would include the Haredim and Palestinian citizens of Israel, who like the ultra-Orthodox are currently exempt from military service. Barak claimed he will insist on implementing this plan within a year of the September election and will not join a coalition unless it agrees to these terms.

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Since Barak announced last week that he will run in the September election, speculation has been rife as to his new party’s policies. The party has thus far painted itself as centre-left, attracting an array of left-leaning figures such as law professor Yifat Biton and Noa Rothman, an author and lawyer who is also the granddaughter of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by an extreme right-wing Israeli.

Yet the party has also attracted Sagit Peretz Deri, a former Jewish Home activist who defected from the religious-Zionist faction over its increasing links with the extreme right-wing.

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Barak is, however, a divisive figure among Israel’s left. He served as defence minister from 2007 to 2013, the last four years of which were under Netanyahu’s premiership. In 2011, Barak split with the Labor party in order to remain in Netanyahu’s government, despite the objection of most of his party.

Barak told a press conference at the time that he felt the Labor party “had been dragged to the Left, to post-modernism and post-Zionism,” adding that he had “reached the conclusion that this anomaly in political life, this reality, must stop”.

Whether Barak’s party will cannibalise the centre-left parties, stealing ground from the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) party and allying itself with Meretz and Israeli Labor, or, as some fear, ultimately concede to working with the Likud – with or without Netanyahu at its helm – remains to be seen.

READ: Israel opposition criticises Netanyahu over Gaza truce

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