Mondoweiss / August 19, 2019
Let’s begin with a disclaimer: There are few people I actually hate. Oh, I despise quite a large number of politicians, and some of them I even loathe. Hate, though, is much more personal. I hate Ehud Barak with a passion. And therefore, the fact that he is now running in the same faction as Meretz, a party I’m an on-and-off member of for over 30 years, will make it very hard for me to vote for it again.
I’ll make the case against Barak as concisely as I can, which admittedly isn’t much as the charge sheet is rather long. As a general, planning the First Lebanon War, Barak suggested secretly to Ariel Sharon that they fake a Syrian attack on Israel so as to use the chance to destroy the Syrian army, Sharon was impressed, but rejected the idea (as it turned out, the IDF had its plate full with the Syrians near Beirut).
Later, as deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff, Barak developed the doctrine of attacking enemy civilians purposefully, in order to put pressure on their government. The first use of this doctrine was in Operation Din V’Hesbon in 1993: The IDF used massive artillery and air attacks against the civilians of South Lebanon, specifically aiming at a humanitarian crisis as an attempt to put pressure on the Beirut government. Not incidentally, Barak came at this idea after the IDF was losing the conventional war against Hizbullah. The same doctrine, which is a war crime, would be used again against Lebanon (in 1996 and 2006) and Gaza (2009, 2012, 2014).
In 1994, Barak was leading an exercise supposed to lead to the assassination of Saddam Hussein. An officer at an elite unit misunderstood a signal, and fired a missile which killed several unit members. The incident, called the Second Tse’elim Disaster, caused shock, and Barak, questioned by the Knesset, lied and said he wasn’t present. He then used the military censorship to cover up his lie. Soon, he joined Rabin’s cabinet – and abstained during the vote on the Second Oslo Accords.
Barak kept maintaining himself in a position in the right of Labour, and managed a Pyrrhic victory against Netanyahu in 1999. He won the election, but his party was decimated. He refused to accept the Palestinian parties as part of his coalition, forcing him to rely on right-wing and religious parties. The coalition was brittle, and in a spectacular show of hubris and insensitivity, Barak found himself with a minority government in about a year. He botched a peace accord with Syria, getting cold feet at the last minute.
And then, of course, there was the Palestinian debacle. Throughout his short tenure – the shortest in the history of Israeli prime ministers – Barak kept the Palestinians on the backburner, saying he will deal with them once he dealt with the Syrians. Oslo officially ended just before he was elected, but Barak didn’t care.
He pushed the Palestinians to discussions which are still a matter of contention, but one thing is clear: Before Barak went to the talks, he told the Israeli media he intended to “expose Arafat’s true face”; and once he returned, empty handed, he uttered the most deadly slogan in Israeli politics: “There is no partner.”
By so doing, Barak tried to deflect responsibility from himself, and cut his own feet. The idea that “there is partner” for peace, uttered by a so-called leftist prime minister, wiped out the raison d’ être of the Israeli left. That was in July 2001. Two months later, Ariel Sharon wanted to climb up Temple Mount; the ISA (Shin Beth) warned Barak this would lead to an explosion; Arafat begged him not to permit it; but Barak, who was a dead man walking politically, was thinking of an alliance with Likud. He disregarded the advice, Sharon went up the mountain, and Israel and Palestine went up in flames.
The initial demonstrations were relatively peaceful, but Barak lost control of the army, which killed dozens and then hundreds of Palestinians. Later records would show that as the government tried to lower the flames, the IDF high command ordered brigade commanders to kill as many militants as they could, and leave the government to the Chief of Staff. The army fired 1.2 million rounds in October 2001 alone. Barak was Minister of Defense; this was his corner to keep clean. Yet, again, as a political lame duck, he didn’t dare confront the army. As pundit Doron Rosenbloom noted, “Israel went willing through a military coup d’état.”
The massacres – for that’s what they were – in the occupied territories spilled into Israel itself. Demonstrations, sometimes violent ones, broke in the Palestinian sector; Barak went on the radio, and hysterically cried that Israel was about to be cut in two, and that “roads must be kept open.” The police acted accordingly, and killed 13 Palestinian citizens in what would be later termed The October Events. A government inquiry board (the Orr Commission) would find him responsible for the killing; but by that time, the Second Intifada was in full stride, bloodletting unseen since 1948 was in progress, and Barak was a private citizen involved in murky business after losing badly to Sharon in 2001 (A noted business partner of Barak’s was Jeffery Epstein). The Palestinian public boycotted the election; Barak got 33% of the vote, Sharon 67%. Myself, I put a blank ballot, on which I wrote “down with the generals’ regime.” I couldn’t vote for that monster.
Six years would pass, and Barak would return to politics. He won, once more, leadership of Labour – and immediately broke his promise to leave Olmert’s government should a government inquiry into the Second Lebanon War demand Olmert’s resignation. It did, and Barak did nothing.
Then came Cast Lead, an orgy of fire and destruction in the dense urban jungle that is the Gaza Strip. The operation began several weeks before the elections, and embittered leftists nicknamed “Operation Save the Polls.” Barak did to Gaza what he once did to Lebanon, killing 759 civilians (B’Tselem figures). The fire was so dense, 4 out of 10 IDF dead were due to friendly fire.
This latest war crime didn’t help Barak much at the polls. He ran under the slogan of “Not likable, [but rather] a leader.” The public was unimpressed. He brought Labour to its lowest result ever, and started its death spiral. He then immediately reneged on his election promise, and entered Netanyahu’s government as Defense Minister. In this position, he would commit another was crime (the Mavi Marmara massacre), and would try to push the country to war with Iran. In late 2011, he split up Labour, taking with him four renegades to form a party he called ‘Atzmaut (Independence). Understanding he was as popular as leprosy, he did not run again in 2013.
So how did this most disastrous of politicians, this serial war criminal whose murky financials are kept hidden from the public, make it into Meretz’s list, albeit in the 10th place?
There are two reasons, as I see it. One is tactical. Barak formed a new party and basically blackmailed Meretz. If you don’t let me join, he kept saying, I will keep running, you will lose votes, and perhaps both of us won’t make it into the Knesset. Barak’s appeal is negligible; by all polls, he wouldn’t have gotten into the Knesset under his own power; he was a parasite looking for a carrier. He carried out a successful hostage-taking operation.
But why did it succeed? Because the Israeli left has been eaten alive by a sort of death-wish masquerading as a will to power. I’ve been fighting against this merger for weeks. Those who opposed the merger failed miserably. The vote was 250:6. Why?
The answer we kept hearing was “we need to win for once. Stop being purists. Let us win.” This reasoning sent many of Labour and Meretz voters to Blue-White: the wish to be, for once, on the winning side.
But this goes against all reason. The numbers are hard and unchanging: The right-wing will get 63-67 seats. They will be in a majority no matter what the left wing does. Unless there’s a catastrophic war or some other earth-shaking event, this is unlikely to change. But to face this is to accept one of two options: that the struggle is pointless, lost; or that it will require much work that we expected.
A large core of the Israeli left has given up on its mission. It speaks less and less of the occupation. Why do you bother us with that? It’s not like we can change it. The people have grown tired of the issue; occupation-fatigue was in evidence even in the 1990s. Even within Meretz those who consider the occupation the main issue faced by the public are mocked as “kibushniks”, “occupationists.” Let us seize power, but we have forgotten why. Let us seize power, even if takes a war criminal to do so – and power is imaginary. This torch, we can no longer carry it. This burden, it’s too much. Let us sleep, then. Let us dream. Let us merge with majority and dissolve within it. A weariness of existence captured well by Cavafy [C.P. Cavafy is widely considered the most distinguished Greek poet of the twentieth century; ed.]:
Why the sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
Everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
There are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.
For people weary of unceasing struggle, crowned by repeated defeat, Ehud Barak is a kind of solution. Surrender to him, abandon your ideas, let someone else worry. But, of course, once you surrender to the barbarian the way back will be much more arduous.
Solon, the semi-mythical lawgiver of Athens, ordered that anyone who, in a time of civil strife, stood aside and chose no side, should be exiled, as he is the worst of citizens. Israel is rapidly losing its democratic trappings. To not go to the polls would be the height of civic irresponsibility. I cannot vote for the butcher of Gaza and of the October Events. The Joint List contains religious fundamentalists and supporters of a greater butcher, Assad. This leaves me with no party I can willingly vote for.
Yossi Gurvitz is a journalist and a blogger, and has covered the occupation extensively.