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Barak in Crisis

A barrage of new polls in Israel demonstrates one thing: Labor Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in big trouble. If elections were held today, his party would barely count.

Barak has been struggling for a long while now. In fact, he never recovered from the political defeat he suffered back in the year 2000, when Ariel Sharon was elected and Barak was ousted from the Prime Minister’s office. His explanation, essentially, is that he’s still being blamed for being the messenger–namely, exposing Arafat’s duplicity at Camp David. That’s a nice way of trying to make a failure seem like an achievement. The Israeli public, to its credit, does not buy it.

Barak was embarrassed this week by reports showing that his wife was taking advantage of his position in business dealings. She was forced into closing her business down, but the negative reports kept coming. “This is part of an attempt to delegitimize me,” Barak said. It’s probably true–but hey, that’s a politician’s life.

Since the atmosphere in Israel is not very hospitable now to politicians’ business shenanigans, Barak’s will be a burden, making the next election a possible nightmare for Labor. So much so that the headline in this morning’s Haaretz was: “Barak: I’m not worried about being removed before elections.” And parsing a new poll by Prof. Camil Fuchs, Israel’s most prolific pollster, Haaretz‘s Yossi Verter explained what would happen if elections were held today:

This week, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni continues to maintain a comfortable lead over her main rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and is the only politician threatening Netanyahu’s prospects of returning to the Prime Minister’s Office. But the Kadima voters whose support affords Livni 28 seats tend to treat her only like an electoral profit-bearing share. When asked which candidate they rely on most to manage the country’s affairs, only 21 percent of Kadima voters want her to be the one that “answers the red phone at 3 A.M.” When it comes to this, Mofaz gets 33 percent, whereas Netanyahu gets 22 percent from Kadima voters – 1 percent more than Livni.

Among Likud voters, 74 percent support Netanyahu when it comes to the question, “Who do you rely on most?” By comparison, Barak gets only 58 percent from Labor voters. Among the entire public, Livni gets 18 percent support and Netanyahu 28 percent; the highest rate of support goes to “no one” (29 percent) – further evidence of the leadership crisis in Israel.

Crisis of leadership? Indeed. Here’s something I wrote a long time ago:

[W]hen the shift to a younger generation is no longer a luxury, it’s not yet clear where the leaders will come from. The military, which was once a reliable source, lost steam and glory; professional politicians aren’t popular in Israel; academics even less so; and businessmen tend to stay out of public life.

And a short time ago:

Olmert was the accidental successor who just happened to be there when Sharon slipped off stage. Olmert inspired no awe–but whoever succeeds him will have the same problem. Livni, Mofaz, Netanyahu, Barak-none will have the benefit of personal dominance; all will find it difficult to win over voters. One of them will become prime minister–but only because the country has to have someone playing that role.


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