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Israeli Defense Minister Steps Down From Labor Party *updated*

January 17, 2011

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.
[emphasis mine]

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?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Tovah permalink
    January 17, 2011 9:32 am

    Great post Stacy- I had no idea, this must have just happened?

    Jennifer Rubin really is an idiot- sorry but she is. I agree with you that Rosenthal did a good job trying to deflect Rubin’s more incendiary goading. Rubin really represents the worst of Mideast political debate. Her goals is just what you said- to stifle and silence all criticism of Israel as antisemitism. The part about J Street is interesting and I think sadly it shows just how conservative the Jewish community has become. The fact that J Street is considered soooooooo controversial simply because it opposes settlement construction tells me that a majority of the Jewish community doesn’t really fully support US policy on settlements. My parents are a case in point. They want it both ways in that they say they support a two state solution but essentially Israel shouldn’t have to stop building in “Judea and Samaria” because, well, thats OURS and all criticism of Israel should be behind closed doors.

    I wish Hillary would speak at J Street but I have a sinking feeling she won’t. I know Christmas would come early for Stacy if she did 😉

    • Steve permalink
      January 17, 2011 9:39 am

      Wow, thanks for the update Stacy!

      I’m not a huge Barak fan. He’s a jolly fellow and all but not really much help these days. Of course he’s better than Lieberman but anyone is.

      I just finished reading the Rubin piece and it’s also important to note that the Time Magazine article she references is not nearly as controversial as she makes it sound. In fact, the thesis for the article, that during a period of economic security and very few violent attacks against Israelis, many Israelis don’t feel the urgency of the Mideast peace issue, is hardly radical. This is something that has been pointed out OVER AND OVER AND OVER again in Israeli media- In JPost, in YNet, in Haaretz- so I guess the question is, is Israeli media antisemitic?,8599,2015602,00.html

      The idea that the Time piece is meant to trot out the “Jews only care about money” slur is silly. That’s not what the article is about. It’s no big secret that when there is increased violence against Israeli citizens Israeli leaders feel much more pressure to make a peace deal. During times of economic uncertainty people are more likely to view things through more rose-colored glasses. After all, so long as Israeli Jews are doing well, who really cares about Israeli settlements – why rock the boat, right? That’s not antisemitic that’s just Israeli politics. And psychology.

      Rubin’s a bottom feeder and I’m sort of surprised Rosenthal even did the interview because it’s really a lose-lose situation. Rubin will NEVER give the Obama admin. the benefit of the doubt on anything having to do with Israel.

  2. January 17, 2011 10:42 am

    Nice set of images on Mrs. Clinton…

  3. Thain permalink
    January 17, 2011 11:53 am

    I just wrote a whole long comment and it disappeared. Screw it.

    Here’s the short version- US policy is that any criticism of Israel in public or on the international stage is antisemitism. Double standards that favor Israel will be not only ignored but encouraged. Israel unlike other democracies should not be held accountable ever. Singling out Israel is bad, but singling out Iran is good. Israel has no obligation to follow international law but other countries do. The Palestinians should have no international recourse for ongoing violations of their rights, they should just shut up and bear it. Violence against Israelis is bad but so is peaceful protest against the occupation. Anyone who says otherwise hates Jewish people.

    Yeah there’s a double standard alright…

    My f*cking tax dollars are going for this?

  4. SirJohn permalink
    January 17, 2011 1:19 pm

    Israel’s further isolation on the world stage is not a result of antisemitism although I understand the temptation of always playing the victim. After all, everyone feels sorry for victims and we excuse their behavior as outside their control. However, this militarily superior nuclear power is no victim and some people just happen to be fed up with its acting like a spoiled brat. If its a sovereign nation then why can’t it walk two steps without needing the US to hold their hand?

    Israel’s diplomatic isolation will also put it’s patron, the US, in a tight spot:

    If they ended the Occupation they would find they had many more friends even among Arab states. But they don’t want to admit the occupation has ANYTHING to do with how people view them. Nope, it’s all antisemitism, nothing to do with them. Hamas has said it would sign a peace treaty with them if they retreated to the 1967 borders but nope, not gonna do it! Not while the US is willing to entrench the occupation and reward them for their land grabs.

    It’s not antisemitism it’s just that nobody likes a bully. That’s really what it comes down to. In particular, nobody likes watching former victims turn around and use the same horrific methods of oppressing others as was used against them in the past. Very unseemly and hypocritical.

  5. January 17, 2011 2:19 pm

    Somebody get Jennifer Rubin a big giant valium:

  6. Lulu permalink
    January 17, 2011 3:53 pm

    Thanks for the info. stacy, I do love this site. It’s nice to have someone who keeps abreast of the foreign media because it often provides more insight into what actually is going on.

    I fear Labor’s loss is Likud’s gain. Or Kadima? I agree with you that it doesn’t bode well for the left in Israel.

  7. January 17, 2011 4:57 pm

    An interesting article on how the language used to describe the settlements (ie. disputed vs. illegal) has important implications for international law.

    The US used to be very clear about recognizing the settlements beyond the Green Line as illegal- the entire international community is in line with this. But as the power of the Israel Lobby grew we have backed off calling them per se illegal and use code words like “disputed” which of course implies that there are two reasonable positions on this and it’s merely a matter of interpretation or opinion. This is not the case. The settlements are illegal and Israel is in violation of a handful of international laws and UN resolutions with respect to not only the building activity but also it’s responsibilities under international law with respect to the treatment of occupied persons. For example, you can’t do things like divert water resources, limit freedom of movement, withhold medical treatment etc.

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