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Israeli Candidate Tries Hostile Turf

March 10, 1999

MIGDAL HAEMEK, Israel (AP) _ Ehud Barak, the opposition Labor Party’s candidate for prime minister, ventured Wednesday into the working-class territory of the governing Likud, arm-in-arm with a Likud defector he has teamed up with to try to win elections.

Barak’s first trip into the rival stronghold alongside David Levy was a shock for some in Migdal Haemek, a city of 25,000 in Israel’s north founded by immigrants from Morocco in 1953.

It’s a natural constituency for Levy, whose family also hailed from Morocco.

But Sephardic Jews with North African and Middle Eastern roots still harbor resentment towards Labor for the ill-treatment they received as new immigrants in the 1950s from previous Labor governments headed by Ashkenzai, or European-descended, Jews.

Barak’s Labor party, Levy’s Gesher party, and Meimad, a moderate Orthodox Jewish movement, have banded together to form the One Israel coalition, a Labor attempt to widen the party’s appeal ahead of the May 17 elections.

Nissim Turgeman, 35, an unemployed plumber whose parents are from Morocco, said Levy’s presence with Barak would not make him more likely to vote for the Labor leader.

``Just the opposite,″ he said emphatically, ``I can’t vote for someone who joins up with the enemy. He’s a traitor.″

During the tour of Migdal Haemek, Barak criticized the economic policies of election rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged to work with Levy to find solutions to the unemployment that plagues Migdal Haemek and similar cities.

Levy resigned from Netanyahu’s government over the premier’s social welfare and peace policies.

The first joint appearance of the Barak-Levy team coincided with the completion of a state report that may lift a shadow from Barak’s past.

Officials who saw the still-unreleased report say it clears Barak of charges of abandoning wounded soldiers after a military training accident in 1992, when Barak was chief of staff of the Israeli army. Five soldiers died and six others were wounded.

Likud campaigners have used the charges to claim Barak evaded his responsibility.

Barak said he hopes the report will remove the issue from the campaign. ``I’m glad this is over,″ he said.

The two candidates moved through a shopping arcade Wednesday shaking hands, surrounded by several dozen young Labor campaign volunteers shouting slogans and singing songs.

At the arcade, Barak spotted Itzik Ohion, who lost his left arm when his tank was hit during the 1973 Mideast war. Barak had been his unit commander. Barak pushed security guards out of the way and hugged his former soldier.

Later, Ohion told a story from the 1973 war to counter the charges that Barak could have abandoned wounded soldiers in 1992.

``A wounded soldier appeared in the encampment,″ recalled Ohion. ``He said two others were missing. Instead of waking up the whole unit, Ehud went out and found them himself.″

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