Rarely does political discourse become more venomous than when it turns its attention to a high-profile apostate. It is no surprise, therefore, that erstwhile comrades have erupted in a volcano of vitriol at Defence Minister Ehud Barak's decision to leave the Labour Party to form Atzmaut, a party Barak pointedly described as "centrist, Zionist and democratic" in notable contrast, he alleged, to the "constant drift to the left and again to the left" of Labour.
For Gideon Levy, one of the most high-profile of a diminishing bunch of far-left Israeli ideologues, Barak's move was an "act of sabotage". "The man who sits in the Defence Ministry," he spluttered angrily in an op-ed in Ha'aretz, "… [has] brought Israeli politics to a new low". On the contrary, and unlike Levy himself, Barak is merely waking up to realities that wider Israeli society has been unable to ignore for a decade.
Ever since the Palestinian leadership flatly rejected Barak's very own peace offers as prime minister in 2000 and 2001 and answered those offers with a bloodbath, it has been obvious that crude land-for-peace formulas long argued for by the Israeli left would require serious modifications at best.
More than anything else, it is the stark reality of even the "moderate" Palestinian leadership's implacable rejectionism that has altered the look and feel of contemporary political society in Israel, and all but consigned the Labour Party to
electoral oblivion in the process. Levy and company, in common with their ideological cousins in Europe, have been left behind as their guiding assumptions about an oppressed Palestinian minority yearning to live in peace and freedom next to the Jewish state have consistently failed to square with the available evidence.
That is what Barak is referring to in stressing the "Zionist" credentials of his new party.
He is no less committed to peace, and no less dedicated to the social dimension of politics than ever before.
He has simply been forced to make a choice between remaining inside the illusory comfort zone inhabited by old associates, or making a courageous choice to try out something new.