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Gaza flotilla raid pushes unknown Knesset member into spotlight

Hanin Zoabi, who was aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was seized Monday by Israeli commandos, has stepped up as a leading domestic critic of her government's Gaza flotilla raid. Meanwhile, senior statesman Ehud Barak faces calls for his resignation.

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Zoabi, 41, has been in the Knesset for just over a year as part of the Arab nationalist Balad party. She is the latest Arab member of the parliament to be accused of siding with Israel's enemies, underlining the heat on the country's one-fifth minority.

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Ehud Barak under fire

While Zoabi emerges as a leader among Israeli Arabs, the flotilla incident has damaged the image of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is seen as the architect of the botched operation. A public opinion poll published Wednesday by the daily Maariv newspaper showed Mr. Barak as the focus of the blame.

"People were satisfied with him as a defense minister. This is the first time that he has faced real criticism,'' says Noam Shezeif, an Israeli journalist writes the Promised Land political blog. "In the long run, it causes real damage, because it hits him in his strong point.''

On Tuesday he faced a call from a party colleague to resign – which would almost certainly destabilize Netanyahu. Barak has been an important envoy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the US administration on peace talks, and his Labor Party is somewhat of a political counterweight and linchpin to Netanyahu's otherwise right wing coalition.

Analysts doubt he will resign, however, because it would amount to a mea culpa for Israel. But in the coming months, after the shock of international criticism wears off, analysts say Israelis are likely to be less forgiving of the Barak-Netanyahu duo's mishandled foreign policy.

"Mainstream Israelis are not satisfied with the justifications that there's nothing we can do about it,'' says Akiva Eldar, a political commentator from the liberal Haaretz newspaper. Such a justification is especially hard when numerous governments and the UN Security Council have condemned the violence and called for an independent inquiry.

"You can't convince [Israelis] that the Italians, Germans, and the new conservative British government, and that everyone is wrong, and they are the only one that sees the reality right."

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid