Israel’s political left received a bit of good news last week when former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak reconsidered his decision to run on his own ticket in September’s elections, with rumors (since denied) that he has opted instead to join the upcoming race for head of the Labor Party. The last thing the opposition needs is yet another party cannibalizing votes from their bloc, led by an individual who has become something of a hated figure among those on the center left and left-wing of the political spectrum. This is to say nothing of the right, which has written Barak off as simultaneously an irrelevant figure and a testament to the dangers of left-wing rule. As the last Labor-affiliated prime minister to win power, Barak is often unfairly singled out for blame over the downward spiral of the center-left camp; yet, like former American presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Barak frequently elicits an irrational dislike far beyond any sense of proportion with his real or imagined transgressions.

Nonetheless, the list of grievances against him is quite long, and, in many cases, the anger is justified. Barak’s short-lived tenure as prime minister saw the collapse of the Camp David negotiations, a hasty pull out from southern Lebanon that bolstered Hezbollah’s power and reputation and the dissipation of Israeli Arab support for the Labor party following the shooting of 13 Palestinian-Israelis during violent protests in October 2000. But for many party stalwarts, it was his union with Netanyahu beginning in 2009 and the bifurcation of his party with the creation of Atzmaut that made him into a villain, with Barak cast as yet another cynical politician willing to sell out his allies to maintain his seat. Of course, he cannot be held solely accountable for the state of the party today; Labor has gone through three leaders since his departure, none of them lasting more than a couple of years nor leaving much of a positive impact on its fortunes. Whether it was Shelly Yachimovich equivocating about settlements, Isaac Herzog’s apparent lack of charisma, or current chairman Avi Gabbay’s overall ineptitude, Labor’s collapse has been a gradual team effort.

However, whatever one thinks about Barak and the level of culpability he shares in the weakening of the Israeli left, the fact still stands that he remains a divisive figure, especially in any type of leadership role. Already stereotyped as arrogant and egocentric, the creation of yet another party in a crowded center-left camp would likely have solidified for many Barak’s perceived role in Israeli politics as an entitled has-been who cares more about consolidating power than the greater good of the electorate (and, to be fair, the electoral field is already filled with figures who fit that description). Worse still, it may very likely have fallen under the electoral threshold, in turn sucking precious votes away from smaller parties like Meretz and Labor who made it into the Knesset by the skin of their teeth in April’s elections, thereby exposing them to the same fate.

There is no guarantee that making a play for Labor leadership will be met with success, either. Since Barak’s departure, the party has seen significant changes, with a younger generation of politicians moving up in the ranks. A number of those individuals, including former activists Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli, are now vying for the top leadership spot in the party and are unlikely to view Barak’s return to Labor kindly (to say nothing of the voting rank and file). Barak has also spent the last few years since retirement routinely warning of a “diplomatic tsunami” if Israel doesn’t change course and reconsider its furthering entrenchment beyond the Green Line. And yet, despite years of Netanyahu’s problematic leadership, his nightmare scenario hasn’t actually come to fruition (at least, not yet). As a result, his protestations now risk making his return to politics appear as opportunistic scaremongering. And an unlikely win for party leadership wouldn’t end the problem or disprove his lack of popularity; it might even be gleefully seized upon by the right as a sign of the left’s desperation, with Barak’s litany of mistakes on full display.

This isn’t to say that Barak’s presence is in and of itself a total liability. After being unceremoniously spurned by Avi Gabbay,  former Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni realized her chances of passing the threshold on her own were nil and she dropped out of the April elections to make sure that votes wouldn’t be wasted. This was, unfortunately, a squandered opportunity by the likes of Kachol Lavan to bring her on board for a larger consolidation of parties as another major representative of what is now being called the “democratic camp.” Livni certainly didn’t need to be the leader of said camp (as she herself had made clear, offering to play a supporting role), but having her high up on the slate, or even in an advisory position would have been an overall net positive to Kachol Lavan’s campaign. This is likely a better fit for Barak — in fact, he has already entertained a similar idea, trying to amass a who’s who of political stars, including Livni and Gesher’s Orly Levi-Abekasis. The key here would be Barak’s place in this constellation: as one of many impressive individuals, but not as the leader or face of the bloc.

Barak has been maligned for the last few years as a uniquely problematic and egomaniacal figure dogged by controversy. However unfair that caricature may be, the truth remains that he would be doing the center-left bloc no favors with the creation of his own party or as leader of an already flagging one, given his reputation at present. He can and should, however, be utilized as an asset, but only if used in the right fashion.