(JTA) — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is encouraging “budding fascism.”
“A fanatic nucleus of extremist ideology has taken over Likud by using loopholes in the primaries constitution, purging Likud’s leadership of all those who cherished democracy over populism or some fleeting achievement,” Barak, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu until 2013, said Thursday at the Herzliya Conference.
Netanyahu was responsible for this perceived development, Barak said, whether he it allowed it to happen out of weakness or as a “late manifestation” of his own core beliefs.
“If it looks like budding fascism, walks like budding fascism, barks like budding fascism, then it’s budding fascism,” he said.
Barak called on Israelis to bring about regime change through democratic means.
Likud dismissed Barak’s criticism as less than credible given that he was happy to serve as defense minister under Netanyahu.
“This is about clout and jobs [for Barak], not ideology,” the party’s statement read.
Likud and Netanyahu used similar arguments to pooh-pooh the critique at the Herzliya Conference by Moshe Yaalon, a Likud member and former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who last month resigned from his post as defense minister.
Yaalon quit after Netanyahu asked him to become foreign minister so Avigdor Liberman could take over the Defense Ministry. Netanyahu brought in Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu to increase the coalition’s majority in the Knesset.
On Thursday, calling himself an “alternative” to the current leadership, Yaalon accused Netanyahu of fear mongering by attempting to scare Israeli citizens about security threats to distract them from Israel’s serious problems. Yaalon said Iran is not an imminent existential threat so long as the nuclear agreement it signed with six world powers is en force, and that “we have to prepare for future events.”
Separately, in an ostensibly non-political move into which Israelis immediately read political motives, two former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, set up a new cultural movement with the stated aim of promoting “hope and not of fear, when fear is sown in all directions.”