OpinionColumn

Ehud Barak’s poisonous pyromania

Whatever you think of the Netanyahu government or its judicial reform proposals, Ehud Barak's warmongering is the true threat to Israeli democracy.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at a protest in Tel Aviv against the government's planned judicial reforms, Feb. 25, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at a protest in Tel Aviv against the government's planned judicial reforms, Feb. 25, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90.
David M. Weinberg (Twitter)
David M. Weinberg
David M. Weinberg is senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security & Zionist Strategy, in Jerusalem. His personal website is davidmweinberg.com.

On the days after Tisha B’Av, it would be nice to write about national unity, shared destiny, moderation and restraint. But I cannot ignore the kasach—the unbridled confrontation, the inflammatory demagoguery, the warmongering—that has become standard and acceptable behavior for some of Israel’s once and supposed leaders.

There are very specific people responsible for this degradation, with Ehud Barak taking first place in the ugly contest for the most hateful, most extreme, most seditious rabble rouser of all.

The former prime minister appears at every anti-government protest rally and in every foreign television studio with preening self-confidence, sky-high arrogance and the most untamed political language heard in this country in decades. He savages Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and anybody to the right of him as “dark and dangerous ultra-nationalists who are undermining the foundations of Zionism and Israeli democracy.”

He blabbers uncontrollably about Israel becoming a “fascist state” and an “apartheid” country. He even called a recent Supreme Court ruling that went in Netanyahu’s favor “a Weimar Republic-like decision.” He talks about the “shattering of Israeli democracy,” the “darkest days Israel has known,” “imminent dictatorship in Israel,” and “silencing” by the right. (Funny, Barak doesn’t seem so silenced.)

In one speech I heard, Barak hurled the epithet “fascist” at Netanyahu three times, “dictator” at Justice Minister Yariv Levin four times and “apartheid” at right-wing settlement policies another three times. He then accused all Israelis to his political right of wearing Nazi-style “selection glasses” (mishkefei selectzia shel hayamin)—which is a disgusting political slur whether used by an antisemitic non-Jew or a born-again wannabe Israeli leader.

To this, Barak recently has added piercing, scornful characterizations of Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers as “jokes,” “jackasses,” “pissers,” “drivellers,” “simpletons” and “people sick with autoimmune diseases.”

Barak delivers all this dreadful demagoguery alongside incessant use of the epithet “messianic” in describing policies of the right. This, of course, is supremely ironic, since the only messianism that exists in abundance in Ehud Barak’s presence is his own messianic self-assurance.

Whatever you think of the Netanyahu government or its judicial reform proposals, Barak’s wild exaggerations and exceedingly belligerent characterizations are disgusting. His use of near antisemitic and pseudo-BDS language is unacceptable. His feral ambition and savage hatreds clearly have propelled him off into the deep end.

Worst of all, by far worst of all, is the lead role Barak has taken in calling for subversion of the Israel Defense Forces through mass refusal-to-serve by Israeli soldiers and reserve duty officers.

Barak began barking about the need to refuse to serve in the IDF “under dictatorship” at a February Haaretz conference. “When a black flag of extreme illegality flies over an army order, it is not just the right of a soldier to obey that order, it is his obligation,” said Barak. “We are now facing the civilian equivalent of black-flag illegality.”

He continued: “Our only obligation is to liberal democracy as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. We have no obligatory contract with dictators, and history will judge to purgatory all those who submit to the dictates of dictators.”

Asked whether he wasn’t going too far with his call for mutiny in the military, Barak responded with his characteristic messianic self-possession that “we are the right side of history and we are not afraid of anybody or anything.”

On Channel 12 television on July 6, Barak specifically called upon “air force pilots and front-line commandos” to warn Netanyahu that if the so-called reasonability restriction legislation was passed, they would “refuse to serve a dictatorship, period.”

Reportedly, the Israel Police have opened an investigation into the possibly treasonous remarks made by Barak, and by Yair Golan of Meretz, but don’t hold your breath waiting for indictments. Prosecuting these people for sedition and concrete damage to the security of the State of Israel would not be politically correct.

It would require Israel’s legal elites to admit, which they won’t, that Barak’s discourse is the true threat to Israeli democracy. It would require them to concede, which they won’t, that those screaming the loudest about imminent threats to democracy are the people engaging in tactics that smack of dictatorship and lawlessness. It would force them to draw red lines, which they are unwilling to do, against the growing calls from Barak and his coterie to deny political and civil rights to anybody who thinks and votes differently than them, such as ultra-Orthodox Jews.

This is the place to remind readers of Ehud Barak’s dismal political record. He was resoundingly defeated in the elections of 2001 and 2009, leading the once all-powerful Labor Party to a nadir. His term as prime minister was blessedly short—the shortest of any Israeli prime minister. He was responsible for the helter-skelter retreat from Lebanon, which led to the rise of Hezbollah. His disastrous diplomatic policies led directly to the Second Intifada.

The last point is especially important. Barak betrayed the trust Israelis had given him, by agreeing at the July 2000 Camp David summit to divide Jerusalem and give away the Temple Mount. This was a radical diplomatic departure from the platform on which he had campaigned and which he had reaffirmed publicly just two months earlier. (So much for “democratic” behavior.)

This reckless gambit, for which Barak had no public mandate, terribly weakened Israel’s political hold on Jerusalem. It heedlessly broke an important and rightful Israeli diplomatic taboo about maintaining Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty.

This transgression undermined a core Jewish claim to legitimacy in Zion, which at source is rooted in the holiest place on earth to Jews—Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. It appreciably enfeebled Israel’s diplomatic fortitude. It drove Palestinian expectations sky high and became the baseline for international demands that the city be split into two capitals. It later gave cover to other politicians on the left (like Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni) to go astray, too.

It also promptly led to Yasser Arafat’s so-called Second Intifada, the most murderous spree of Palestinian terrorism in Israel’s history.

Arafat incorrectly assumed that all Israelis would be as supine as Barak; that several dozen bus-bombers would push Israelis over the edge and bring about capitulation in Jerusalem and across Judea and Samaria.

And sure enough, Barak almost gave away the store at the January 2001 Taba summit, after his government had fallen and despite the raging intifada. For the first time, an Israeli prime minister imprudently accepted the 1967 lines (and 97% of Judea and Samaria) as the basis for a Palestinian state. Fortunately, Barak was swiftly kicked out of office, and Israelis proved far more resilient and loyal to their principles than either Barak or Arafat imagined.

Barak has never expressed remorse for his flagrant offenses: for the near plundering of Jerusalem and for his near subversion of democracy. God only imagines to what insane ends of surrender Barak might go if he were to regain the reins of power.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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