New left-wing alliance formed in bid to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu

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New left-wing alliance formed in bid to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu

Trio of forces including Ehud Barak's faction as well as Meretz and Labor, form Democratic Union in bid to topple incumbent PM

A trio of forces on the Israeli left, including former prime minister Ehud Barak united on Thursday ahead of the country’s upcoming elections, looking to pose a powerful contrast to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative ruling Likud party.

The newly formed Democratic Union said in a joint statement it would be made up of Mr Barak’s Democratic Israel faction, the dovish Meretz party and senior Labour Party official Stav Shaffir.

With just a week left to present the final lists for the September balloting, all sides were concerned they might not get enough votes by themselves to cross the electoral threshold.

The move comes amid a flurry of machinations ahead of the “do-over” election in September, after Mr Netanyahu failed to form a parliamentary majority following his victory in April’s vote.

To avoid giving his opponents a chance to build an alternative government, he dissolved parliament and forced an unprecedented new election campaign.

Mr Netanyahu’s various rivals have been seeking to seize on the rare opportunity to unseat him by putting their own differences aside.

Mr Barak, who in 1999 became prime minister by becoming the only person to date to defeat Mr Netanyahu in a head-on showdown, dramatically came out of retirement last month with the stated ambition of toppling Mr Netanyahu again by helping opposition forces create a large enough bloc to unseat Likud.

However, his new faction has so far failed to make much of a splash in the polls.

The former military chief’s main contribution seemed to be getting under the skin of Mr Netanyahu and his family.

Though Mr Barak is headlining the manoeuvre, the 77-year-old will not lead the new list and does not appear to be a candidate to replace Mr Netanyahu himself.

The joint list will be headed by Nitzan Horowitz, the newly elected, openly gay leader of Meretz.

Nitzan Horowitz

Mr Shaffir, a rising star in Labour, bolted from the venerable party to be second on the new list, while Mr Barak will be placed in the 10th slot.

At a press conference in Tel Aviv with Ms Shaffir and Mr Barak, Mr Horowitz said the party aimed to “create significant political power the likes of which the left hasn’t seen in years”.

The three leaders all spoke of “regime change” and ousting Mr Netanyahu from office.

With Labour announcing a joint run focused on social and economic issues with the small Gesher party, Democratic Israel looks to have seized the mantle of peacemaking with the Palestinians and is poised to reintroduce an agenda that has long been missing from the Israeli political discourse.

Meretz politician Tamar Zandberg, a former party leader, called the new alliance a “dramatic move to strengthen the left” and a “significant boost to justice and equality as an alternative to the corrupt and messianic right”.

The move appeared to be facilitated by Mr Barak’s apology earlier this week for the killing of 13 Arab protesters by Israeli police in 2000 while he was prime minister.

Meretz relies heavily on support among Israel’s Arab minority and one of their prominent Arab politicians had called on Mr Barak to apologise.

Stav Shaffir

Since his return to politics, Mr Barak has also been under fire for his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier jailed on sex-trafficking charges.

Mr Barak received some $2 million in grants last decade from the Wexner Foundation, of which Epstein was a trustee, and Epstein had also invested in a start-up company founded by Mr Barak.

The former prime minister has denounced Epstein and says he has “cut all ties” to him.

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