columnSchools & Higher Education

‘Leadership’ and ‘unity,’ Ehud Barak-style

A new research center at Tel Aviv University is backed by and named after the failed former prime minister who’s been fomenting societal schisms.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak speaks during a protest against judicial reform in Tel Aviv, June 24, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak speaks during a protest against judicial reform in Tel Aviv, June 24, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

George Orwell couldn’t make this up. But he might be chuckling in his grave over Tel Aviv University’s latest research institute: The Ehud Barak Center for Leadership—built around, heavily funded by and named after one of the worst prime ministers in Israel’s history.

Given the moniker of the mini-think tank, it wouldn’t surprise Orwell—or the bulk of the Israeli public—that the mission of the elitist, left-wing endeavor is to give the next generation the appropriate tools with which to secure positions of influence. This is doublespeak for heaping extra-special indoctrination on the most promising candidates.

Reportedly, graduate students who meet the right criteria will be provided with financial assistance or scholarships. This is a euphemistic way of signaling to interested participants that they’d do well to include “activism” on their applications.

TAU, of course, disputes such assumptions. While it admits that Barak is heading the group of donors backing the enterprise, it responded to a Channel 14 query that “all the [center’s] activity is conducted by university research staff, and the donors have no influence on the [studies].”

Welcoming the new addition to his campus, TAU president Ariel Porat said he was “proud and happy” about the project, since Barak is “someone whom all of us, at least in this auditorium—well, not only in this auditorium—admire and appreciate very, very much.”

Correct. The handful of Barak’s fans who weren’t in attendance at the inauguration were out waving banners and blocking roads to demand the ouster of “Crime” Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his “extremist, messianic” coalition.

Porat went on to bemoan that “leadership is passé in the world …, and not only in the current Israeli government.” Practically apologizing for such a statement, he hastily interjected, “We’re not political, right?”

Wink, wink.

As if that weren’t laughable enough, Porat defined a “leader” as “someone capable of uniting us, including when we’re divided, even badly divided, on significant issues—certainly someone who doesn’t pit us against one another. A leader who doesn’t unite us, let alone divides us, is not a leader at all, not even a bad one.”

Leave it to an academic to be so inarticulate. On the other hand, credit is due for the latter part of his description, which fits Barak to a tee. Indeed, Barak lasted less than two years at the helm more than two decades ago and with good reason.

It was he who, at Camp David in 2000, offered PLO chief Yasser Arafat huge swaths of Israeli territory in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) for the creation of a Palestinian state. Arafat’s response was to start the “Al-Aqsa Intifada,” a suicide-bombing war against innocent Israelis on buses, in restaurants and at shopping malls.

Barak subsequently insisted that his over-the-top generous offer had been calculated to call the arch-terrorist’s peace bluff. Nobody bought the bull.

Later, he attributed the years of Palestinian mass murder of Jews to the visit to the Temple Mount by opposition head Ariel Sharon, who would go on to succeed him as P.M.

That was nearly 24 years ago. The Barak of today is even less trustworthy. And the last thing he should be associated with is leading by example or societal unity, other than in the context of taking to podia during demonstrations to incite like-minded subversives to stage a coup against the democratically elected government.

In February, for instance, he called on the public to “besiege” the Knesset by camping in tents outside the parliament until “the country shuts down [and] Netanyahu realizes that his time is up.” Oh, and while they’re at it, they should be pressing for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Apparently, the 82-year-old forgot what happened on that score when he actually had the power to put his fantasy of Palestinian statehood into action. Or maybe Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, lauded by a majority of Palestinians, induced brain fog in the senior citizen.

Less than three weeks prior to the atrocious attacks and abductions, he vowed that the “extremely inspiring and impressive” protest movement “will win this battle” against the Netanyahu government’s intention to reform the judicial system.

“There might be ups and downs; it might take time,” he told CBS News on Sept. 20, 2023. “Some people might lose their lives. I told the [protesters that] we will have to face toil and sweat and tears; hopefully no blood. But [there] might be some violence, which always comes from the right wing. But we will put an end to [this government], whatever the price will be.”

This was mild in comparison to a more private conversation he had on Zoom in 2020 with fellow “anybody but Bibi” fanatics.

“A friend of mine, a historian, once told me, ‘Ehud, they will call you when bodies are floating in the Yarkon River,’’ he said. “I wish to stress that it won’t be the bodies of … Palestinians from the territories floating, nor Arab Israelis. The floating bodies will be of Jews who were killed by Jews.”

He sounded almost gleeful with the prospect. There’s leadership for you—of the “Yertle the Turtle” variety, that is. Perhaps the center at TAU will offer a class in the works of Dr. Seuss.

In fairness, Barak has managed to unite a cluster of radicals around the idea that anyone who doesn’t share their political ideology is illegitimate. In his small pond, all means to discredit the majority are kosher.

In other words, he’s a ruler in his own domain. And with the oodles of cash he possesses from dubious sources, among them Jeffrey Epstein and the Wexner Foundation, his name is going to live on through his agenda. Or at least it will be etched in the wall of a building on the TAU quad.

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