Barak Speaks–Does He Have Anything To Say?

Haim Watzman

Ehud Barak will Talk More to the Media,” says the headline in today’s Ha’aretz (Hebrew edition). It’s a mark of the sad state of Israeli politics that it’s worth a headline when the leader of what ought to be the country’s progressive camp decides to talk to the press.

It’s hard to believe but, since regaining leadership of the Labor Party more than a year ago, Barak has said virtually nothing about the major policy issues of the day. He’s one of the three major contenders for the prime minister’s post in the next elections, yet he’s given the public little information about his thinking. We know his social policies, his foreign policy strategy, or his budget priorities. His message to the voting public has been “trust me because I’m Israel’s most decorated soldier and a proven leader.” But leader of what, and in which direction?

The result has been a steady decline in support for Labor–the latest polls show it winning a mere 14 seats in the next Knesset, five less than the miserable showing last time.

The country can’t afford to have a Labor party leader without a vision and without policy initiatives. The party has some good people in its second rank–Avishai Braverman, the former president of Ben-Gurion University and a former top official at the World Bank is one–but if its leader can’t lead the party in a clear direction, one that distinguishes it from the Kadima of Ehud Olmert and Tzippi Livni, then it will lose even its core public support. If Barak’s policies will be the same as Olmert’s, if he really thinks there’s no way to set the peace process on track and revise Israel’s budget to funnel more money into education and social welfare, he should say so out loud and resign his post.

To Barak’s credit, he’s presided over a large-scale rehabilitation of the IDF in the wake of the debacle of the Second Lebanon War. But that qualifies him to continue in the defense post, not to become prime minister.

So I’m waiting to see what Barak will say. Even though I have a sneaking suspicion that there won’t be much to hear.

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