Israeli Defense Minister Steps Down From Labor Party *updated*
Israeli Defense Minister and head of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, announced today that he has left the Labor Party and formed a new party, taking some Labor members with him:
In the wake of waning support from his own ministers, Barak is forming a new faction called Atzmaut (Independence). He will be joined by four fellow Labor lawmakers – Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, and members of Knesset Shalom Simhon, Einat Wilf and Ori Noked.
“We set out today toward independence,” the 68-year-old Barak said in his official announcement at the Knesset. “We are creating a faction, a movement and eventually a party that will be centrist, Zionist and democratic.”
“The top priority [of this movement] will be first and foremost the state, then the party, and only at the end, us,” Barak told reporters. “We invite anyone who believes in this path to join.”
Barak and the four other members of his new party are expected to remain in Netanyahu’s coalition. It is not clear whether Labor’s eight remaining lawmakers will support the government, in particular in light of recent threats to quit the coalition over the stalled Middle East peace process.
This is not great news for the Israeli left. What I am hearing in Israeli media is that Netanyahu encouraged this move by Barak because it may help prevent the collapse of his right-wing coalition. It also sounds like Barak’s new party will be significantly more conservative than Labor, despite being described as “moderate.”
I found Barak’s description of the party: “…[the]The top priority [of this movement] will be first and foremost the state, then the party, and only at the end, us,” as rather chilling. It is reminiscent of several less benign political views that the rights of individuals are secondary to the needs of the State.
By the way, the thorn in my side, Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo, scored an interview with the State Department’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal. Rubin is as ideologically-driven as ever, trying to play “gotcha” and get Rosenthal to rank different oppressions in the apparent hopes that Rosenthal will state that Islamaphobia is a made up phenomena. Luckily, Rosenthal doesn’t take the bait because unlike Rubin, she’s able to see the larger picture.
What bothers me is how some people, including the likes of Rubin and apparently many in our own government (sadly), conflate anti-Semitism with any criticism of Israeli policy, period. It’s disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. To paint all nonviolent, pro-peace, anti-Occupation activists as delegitimizers of the Jewish State is reprehensible in my view. It’s tantamount to saying that the usual democratic rules governing political dissent don’t apply in one instance- when discussing Israel. When criticism of Israel crosses the line into possible anti-Semitism and there are instances where it does, it should be called out, period.
By the way, in fairness to Rosenthal, who did a good job answering Rubin’s ideologically-motivated, largely unhelpful and insincere questions, nowhere in the interview does Rosenthal say that any criticism of Israel is per se anti-Semitic. However, she seems to reinforce the view that there is some unfair double-standard that is always applied to Israel. In some cases there is a double standard, but in some cases there is not. It would be helpful if Rosenthal would make clear that there is a big difference between disagreement with how the Occupation is being carried out and hateful, obviously anti-Semitic rhetoric used by groups like Hezbollah or the likes of which can be found in Saudi textbooks and yes, some blogs on both the left and the right. To treat those things as morally equivalent is unhelpful and in my view, anti-democratic in that it seems to be geared towards silencing ALL criticism.
Anti-Semitism is still a big problem and props to the State Dept. for actively confronting it (and confronting Islamaphobia), but lets not confuse it with rational, respectful debate about the policies of the Middle East’s only democracy. Because to conflate the two for political purposes diminishes the very real, very painful stain of actual anti-Semitism.
UPDATE: Not much has been written about this in the U.S. media, naturally, but Israeli writers are certainly following it- the very pro-democratic demonstration in Tel Aviv yesterday where tends of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to demand that the Israeli government cease its harassment of human rights groups and NGO’s and remember that it is a democracy. Interestingly, Mitchell Plitnick (who has a great blog btw) picks up on how the far right in Israel is essentially claiming that any Israeli critics of the government are what?…..Yup, anti-Semites.
UPDATE: Also, the outgoing Mossad Chief, Meir Dagan, whom Secretary Clinton had quoted recently when discussing success in slowing down Iran’s nuclear capabilities, has apparently backtracked on his more positive assessment last week that Iran would not have nuclear weapons capabilities until at least 2015. Apparently Bibi was FURIOUS that Dagan said that because, well, Bibi wants the US to attack Iran and so any message other than constant fear-mongering is to be avoided. All this talk of slowing down Iran’s alleged weapons program doesn’t support the “we must attack NOW” meme, so now Dagan is back-peddling. It’s sort of sad when people actually want non-military efforts to fail, isn’t it?