Trailing badly going into the final week of the election, the campaign of incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak stooped to new lows, as activists had to be restrained on Tuesday from distributing fake call-up orders for IDF duty meant to scare voters against rival Likud candidate Ariel Sharon.
Michael Cheshin, head of the Central Elections Committee, issued a temporary restraining order last night against Barak supporters handing out the mock call-up orders to IDF reservists. The mock military envelopes, signed by four reservists and designed to appear genuine, were to reach 600,000 families, asking them to choose between an "inevitable" call-up if Sharon is elected, or a letter informing them that their reserve duty has been halved as peace continues to prosper in the region.
Barak's campaign staff denied any connection to the tactic, but his official campaign was distributing a similar item yesterday, in the form of a notice card to be hung on doorknobs of 500,000 homes. The cards asserted that only "Sharon will bring about emergency call-ups."
Justice Cheshin filed the restraining order against the four reservists, Barak's One Israel list and the Postal Authority. Electoral laws ban the use of the IDF in a partisan way. Concerns were expressed today that the fake call-up letters were addressed specifically to 600,000 reserve soldiers, indicating army databases have been improperly accessed and used for political purposes.
The Likud responded to the gimmick saying, "Defense Minister Ehud Barak has gone off his rocker. Woe betide the state whose defense minister is Barak, who promises peace and brings war."
In remarks to the foreign press yesterday, Barak continued to attack Sharon for his role in the 1982 incursion into Lebanon and for long promoting Jewish settlement in Judea/Samaria and Gaza.
Barak drew his loudest applause at a small rally in Jerusalem when saying, "Just as we brought the boys home from Lebanon, we'll bring them home from Judea and Samaria." He assured supporters that peace "is just around the corner." However, Barak pledged that, if re-elected and peace is not possible, he would implement a plan over two to three years to unilaterally "separate" from the Palestinians. "It would be necessary, at the appropriate time, to bring isolated settlers into the settlement blocs," he said. "We will not stay forever in Itamar Gimmel and Netzarim." It was Barak's clearest statements yet that he is prepared to uproot isolated Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria and Gaza.
YESHA Council head Benny Kashriel fired back that, "In Lebanon, there were not 210,000 Jews and it was not part of Israel. If he intends to sell out the Jews as he did the Christians [in Lebanon], he is mistaken. The people of Israel will not let it happen."
Barak said he still expects to gain enough support to win the election. "I believe that the public will wake up at a certain point," Barak said. "Maybe on Friday, when it becomes clear that no other candidate will be appearing," an apparent reference to Labor party rival Shimon Peres. Friday noon is the last moment Barak could decide to defer to Peres, who is faring better in polls than Barak, but now trails Sharon by 6 to 8 percentage points.
Despite lagging some 16 to 22% behind Sharon, Barak continues to resist pressure from within his party and others in the Israeli peace camp to step aside and let Peres replace him in the race for prime minister. Close associates of Barak suggest he is confident that even if Sharon wins, the Likud leader will only last a short while in office, because of the violence expected to surge in the territories and the current make-up of the Knesset.
Peres may have hurt whatever chances he had left of staging a last-minute entry and upset by responding so lamely to Arafat's diatribe at Davos this past weekend.
Meanwhile, PA cabinet member Yasser Abed Rabbo today called on Israeli Arabs not to vote for Sharon in the upcoming election, saying that the PA is capable of "making peace" with a left-wing government in Israel, but that "we can only do one thing with the Israeli right: wage war."
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.