FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

 A Very Intelligent Person

In the late 1980s, my secretary told me that the Deputy Chief of Staff wanted to see me.

That was rather surprising. The army command was not on friendly terms with my paper, Haolam Hazeh. For dozens of years we had been officially boycotted by the army, after publishing a story which the then Chief of Staff considered insulting.

So I was curious when I entered the Deputy’s room. His name was Ehud Barak, and I had never met him before.

Our conversation turned quickly toward European military history. I was quite surprised. In general, Israeli military chiefs are technicians, not theoreticians. But, since military history happens to be a hobby of mine, I was glad to discover that Barak was quite an expert on the subject.

Thus, conversing happily about the 30-years war, I was waiting for him to bring up the matter for which he had invited me. But the time passed and no other matter emerged. There was no other matter.

Ehud Barak was an unlikely soldier. Once his brother told me how Ehud became a commando soldier: he was short and fat as a boy, so his brother had to pull strings very hard to get him accepted by the elite unit.

The results were phenomenal. Barak was a daring commando soldier. He received several citations for personal bravery, commanded audacious exploits in enemy territory, advanced quickly in rank and in the end had filled almost every senior command post, including chief of intelligence, until he became Chief of Staff (the Commander in Chief of the armed forces).

After that it was natural in Israel for him to go into politics. In 1999, after joining the Labor Party and becoming its chief, he won the national elections against Binyamin Netanyahu.

Oh, joy! When the results were announced on the radio, there was a tremendous spontaneous outburst. Masses of people, overcome with emotion, converged on Tel Aviv’s central square, the place where Yitzhak Rabin had been murdered four years earlier. I was there when Barak announced from the tribune: “This is the dawn of a new day!”

The joy was justified. Years before, Barak had told Gideon Levy that if he had been a young Palestinian, he would have joined a terrorist organization. Here was a new spirit.

But something went wrong. President Bill Clinton called for a peace conference at the Camp David resort. There the three of them – Clinton, Arafat and Barak – were to give birth to a historic peace agreement.

It did not happen. Instead of seeking the company of Arafat and airing the problems in private, Barak remained isolated in his cabin. When seated at dinner between Arafat and the young daughter of the President, Barak devoted himself exclusively to her.

True, at Camp David Barak offered peace terms which went further than those of earlier Prime Ministers, but they still fell far short of the minimum the Palestinians could accept. The conference broke up without results.

A real statesman would have declared something like this: “We had a fruitful discussion. It would have been a miracle if, after a hundred years of conflict, we had reached an agreement at the first attempt. There will be more conferences, until we reach agreement.

Instead Barak made an incredible announcement: “I have offered concessions which went further than anything Israel has offered before. The Palestinians have refused everything. They want to throw us into the sea. There is no chance of peace.”

Coming from the mouth of the “Leader of the Peace Camp”, this turned failure into catastrophe. The Israeli peace camp collapsed. It has not recovered since. After Barak, Ariel Sharon took over, then Ehud Olmert, followed by Binyamin Netanyahu – seemingly for good.

When an ordinary Israeli is asked these days “Who do you think can replace Bibi?” the almost automatic answer is: “Nobody”. The voter sees no possible successor, neither in the Likud nor in the opposition.

The members of the present cabinet – male and female – are nobodies. Little politicians who are good at creating scandals and attracting public attention, but not much else. If there ever were talented leaders in the Likud, they have been removed by Netanyahu long ago.

Half the Israelis believe that “Bibi” is an excellent leader. And indeed, He looks good, is a very clever politician, a wizard of public relations. He makes a good impression abroad and manages the country’s daily affairs in a passable way.

The most exact judgment about Bibi was passed by his own father, the history professor. He said: “Bibi can be an excellent Foreign Minister. But he cannot be Prime Minister!”

Nothing could be more true. Netanyahu has all the qualifications of a Foreign Minister, but he has none of the qualifications necessary for a Prime Minister. He has no vision. No answers for Israel’s historic problems. No wish to overcome Israel’s many internal divisions. Many Israelis hate his guts.

So who can replace him, even in theory?

The political field looks like a human desert. Politicians appear and disappear. The Labor Party (in its different guises) changes leaders regularly like clothes. The glamorous new boy, Ya’ir Lapid, the creator and sole chief of the “There is a Future” party, is losing his luster rapidly.

When somebody asks in a small voice: “What about….Ehud Barak?” a silence ensues. There is no easy answer.

Since leaving public life, Barak has become very rich. His main occupation seems to be advising foreign governments. He lives in the most luxurious building in the center of Tel Aviv. He has no political party. Perhaps he is waiting for The Call.

As a personality, there is no doubt that Barak stands out. He is far better qualified than any other Israeli politician. If a new young leader does not emerge from nowhere, Barak is the only person who could take Netanyahu on.

But one feels in the air a palpable hesitation. He has no following. People admire him, but do not love him. He does not inspire trust, as Rabin did. He has open contempt for people who are less talented than he, and that is a great disadvantage for a politician.

And then there is his record of past failures.

In Goethe’s Faust, the outstanding work of German literature, Mephisto, the devil, introduces himself as “the force which always desires the bad and always creates the good.” Similarly, Barak is an arch-angel who always desires the good and always creates the bad.

There is Camp David, of course. There was his hatred for Yasser Arafat, the only Palestinian who could have made peace with Israel.

His very superiority causes a problem. It does create suspicion.

One of Israel’s two most pernicious problems is the deep-seated feeling of the immigrants from Eastern countries of having been discriminated against. (The second problem is the relationship between the Orthodox and the atheists.)

When he was Prime Minister, Barak did something unique: on behalf of the government he asked the forgiveness of the Easterners for the discrimination they had suffered. Somehow, it fell flat. No one even remembers the gesture. For Easterners, Barak looks like the typical overbearing Ashkenazi (Westerner).

Bibi Netanyahu, in contrast, is adored by most Easterners, though he is and looks as Ashkenazi as anyone can.

Why? God alone knows.

So, come next election, would I vote for Barak?

The opportunity would arise only if Barak decides to accept the challenge and succeeds in uniting behind him all the opposition parties, which hate each other. That by itself would be a Herculean task.

If that happens, I would recommend voting for him. To be honest, I would recommend voting for anybody who seriously challenges Bibi. I believe that Bibi is leading Israel toward an abyss – an eternal war against the Palestinians, a war nobody can win.

Would I vote for Barak in spite of his record? Intelligent people can learn from experience (though few do).

Ehud Barak is a very intelligent person.

More articles by:

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail