Faced with repeated efforts by other high-ranking members to force the traditionally leftist Labor Party out of the right-far-right coalition government, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced that he is leaving the party, along with four other seldom-mentioned MPs, to found a new “centrist, Zionist” faction called Atzmaut (Independence).
“The top priority will be first and foremost the state,” insisted Barak. The move finally puts an end to the schism in the Labor Party between its less hawkish members and Barak, who it was revealed last week tried to start a massive war with Iran.
Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the move, saying it would “strengthen” the government even though it did mean the remaining Labor faction would almost certainly move into the opposition. It would also, he insisted, somehow show the Palestinians that the far-right coalition isn’t going anywhere. Though this may be true in the near-term, and would remove any pretense that there is a split on hawkishness in the coalition, it also makes that coalition even smaller, and more vulnerable to schisms between the far-right religious and far-right secularist blocs.
Other, unnamed members of Likud however mocked the move, saying Barak was attempting to reinvent himself by founding a new “Lieberman-style” hawkish party, and called the other MPs who joined him “the four dwarves.”
Labor had traditionally been a strong party in Israeli politics, but Barak had driven the party further and further from its roots, alienating its voters and leaving the bloc decidedly a minor party in the last election. It remains to be seen however if they can reinvent themselves as a more traditionally, less hawkish leftist party and if the Israeli voters, who shifted broadly to the far right in the last election, have any interest in a party that doesn’t exist primarily to start major wars.