Alumnus fails in bid for Israeli Knesset

GW graduates are known for their political prowess. One has climbed to the ranks of the Senate leadership, and another is being talked about as a possible Democratic presidential candidate. But alumnus Mitchell Barak has his sights set on an entirely different political arena: the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem.

Barak, a New York native who graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, has become well acquainted with Israeli politics. After a brief stint with the D.C.-based Republican Jewish Coalition, Barak moved to Israel and began working as an adviser to the finance minister. Barak later worked as an aide to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a speechwriter for the now-ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In 2004 Barak co-founded Kidron Strategies, a political consulting firm with offices in Jerusalem and Washington. Recently, he felt the desire “to experience what it is like to be a candidate, after advising candidates and politicians for so many years.”

While Barak experienced his first political defeat earlier this month running for a slot on the right-wing Likud party ticket, he said the race was merely a stepping stone.

“Often in the Likud party candidates for the Knesset don’t make it the first time around,” Barak said. “This was a strategic decision to make myself a stronger candidate for a future Knesset election.”

Barak ran on a platform of “hasbarah,” an ideology that emphasizes the importance of Israel’s public diplomacy and international media relations.

Barak’s candidacy came at a turbulent time in Israeli politics. Controversy over Sharon’s land concessions to the Palestinians prompted a political realignment that has left the once-dominant Likud party struggling to maintain its plurality in the Knesset.

In November Sharon left the conservative Likud party to form Kadima, a centrist party. With Sharon went other high-ranking Likud officials. Barak, who disagrees with Sharon’s land concessions, stayed with Likud.

On Jan. 4, in the midst of this political realignment, Sharon suffered a major stroke. Although Sharon appears unlikely to fully recover, support for his new party remains high.

“Sharon’s stroke has not yet diminished the party’s standing in the polls,” GW professor of political science and international affairs Nathan Brown wrote in an e-mail.

“Polls now suggest that Kadima will do much better than Likud,” Brown said.

What this means for Barak’s future election prospects is unclear, but his commitment to government service remains the same, he said.

“I moved to Israel to be part of building a country and to make an impact,” he said.

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