TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Israeli prime ministerial candidate Ehud Barak has joined forces with a veteran politician who has strong ties to the key voting block of Sephardic Jews.

The union with David Levy, a former member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, is likely to help Barak's Labor Party draw much needed support from Sephardic voters _ Jews with roots in the Middle East and Africa.

Sephardic Jews, who make up about half of the country's Jewish population, traditionally back the Likud.

Levy, who was born in Morocco, resigned as Netanyahu's foreign minister in 1997, angry over Netanyahu's stand on social programs and his hard-line policies with the Palestinians.

In a nationally televised speech, Levy handed Netanyahu a stinging rebuke Sunday, suggesting he had ruined his own party and created national disunity.

Barak has worked hard to change the image of the Labor Party, traditionally a stronghold of Jews of European origin.

Many Sephardic Jews remain bitter over the Labor Party's often heartless methods of resettling Sephardic immigrants to Israel in the 1950s.

Under the alliance, Levy was promised the third spot on a list of candidates for a Labor-led coalition, indicating he would become a senior minister if Barak wins the May 17 election.