Barak can whisper ‘peace’ into Netanyahu’s ear

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By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Ehud Barak isn’t a good politician. He almost admitted it in a lengthy television interview last Thursday. It’s difficult to imagine that history will ever forgive him for his role in breaking up the Labor Party that he was elected to lead. But when he justifies his continued presence in the right-wing government of Binyamin Netanyahu he may have a point, for he may be the only one who has the prime minister’s ear and therefore should be able to bend it.

And it needs a lot of bending at the moment. The international isolation in which Israel finds itself is getting to us all. The unanimous condemnation by the UN Security Council of Israel’s settlement policy hasn’t been wiped out, even though the United States decided to veto it. And when even such a good friend as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel ends up having words with Netanyahu on the phone, all of us should sit up and take note.

Barak seems to believe that he can help to bridge the gap before it becomes a chasm. As arguably the only member of the Netanyahu government who is well received not only in the Pentagon, where as minister of defense he does a lot of business, but also in the White House and the State Department, where the obvious contact – Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – seems to be persona non grata, Barak may be able to find a way of re-orienting the government toward peace with the Palestinians.

That’s the impression I got from the TV interview. Of course, it could have been yet another example of double-speak, but it didn’t feel like that. Whereas Netanyahu seems to be so bent on staying in power that he ignores the implications of the government’s intransigence in relation to the Palestinians, it’s possible that Barak has a broader view, because he could probably also see himself serving under the Leader of the Opposition Tzipi Livni, even though he may not be able to keep the defense portfolio in a Kadima government, as its Number Two Shaul Mofaz would expect it.

That’s how I interpret Barak’s recent comments about the urgency of making peace with Syria. He probably knows better than most that the cost of that peace would be the Golan Heights, at least in parts, but also that the reward would be Syria’s break with Iran and thus also with Hezbollah in Lebanon. If that happens, both Israel’s position and the Middle East as a whole would bring boundless benefits to us all.

This is thinking big, something that Netanyahu and his government, for all their rhetoric, seem incapable of. The oft-heard accusation that the cabinet runs the country as if it were a shtetl has to be taken seriously. In the shtetl, survival with a minimum of pogroms was all its leaders could hope for. But a sovereign state must expect more, because it owes its citizens more. Shtetl politics is a betrayal of the Zionist dream.

For obvious reasons, Jews in the Diaspora are particularly responsive to the shtetl model; some of them still remember it from their own experiences or from what their parents told them. Many see Israel in that context. That’s why they perceive every criticism as anti-Semitism or, if it’s spoken by Jews, as self-hatred. Some of it may indeed be that, but much is of a different order, especially when it comes from people like Obama and Merkel, and committed Jews in fear of seeing Zionism squandered.

The above is, therefore, little more than a suggestion that, for all our legitimate disappointment in Barak, we shouldn’t write him off quite yet. Who else is there?

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his year between Canada and Israel.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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