In a surprise move, Israel’s Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak, 68, has left the Labor Party, which he had led until now, and has formed his own faction in the Knesset, the nation’s parliament. Four of the 17 Labor members in the Knesset, including three other ministers, will join Barak in the new faction. The remaining three Labor ministers resigned from the government on Monday following Barak’s announcement. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilani, Trade and Employment Minister Orit Noked, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and MK Einat Wilf said they would join Barak - a former prime minister and chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and the country's most decorated soldier.
"We are creating a new faction and we will call on everyone who believes in our path to join," Barak said in a statement on Monday. He pointed to a "a shift [by Labor] towards the left" as well as the "endless infighting" that had left the party weak and divided. He said he and his four allies would now set up “a faction, a movement and later a party, which will be Zionist, in the political center, and democratic, and will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy” [Israel’s first prime minister after independence].
Wilf made reference to recent threats by senior Labor figures to quit the coalition unless progress was made on the peace process. Barak’s position has been under threat by Labour MKs who believe he has not pushed the Likud of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard enough for a peace deal.
Isaac Herzog, who resigned as social affairs minister within hours of Barak's announcement, praised the new developments and vowed to remain in Labor, and bring it back to its former political glory. "Today is a day of positive change for the Labor Party. Barak's abandonment allows for a renewal of the party and its return to social action and true vision... I will pull together new and rejuvenated forces and turn [the party] into a true political alternative," he said. Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich lambasted Barak over the "corrupt and opportunist" way in which he chose to split from the party: "Barak brought tragedy to the Labor Party, sullied it and broke it apart. The name 'Independence' is no less cynical: independent of a platform, of values and obligations to the public, loyal to a [coalition] seat."
In a first reaction, Netanyahu welcomed Barak’s decision, saying the political developments would strengthen his coalition government.