Interim Labor Party head calls for leadership race ASAP

Lieberman says his Israel Beiteinu could win 20 seats without him.

January 25, 2011 04:04
3 minute read.
Labor Party Convenes

Labor 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Former Labor secretary-general Micha Harish, who has agreed to temporarily head the party, expressed hope on Monday that his stint would be short.

Harish came to a meeting of the Labor faction and vowed to help the ailing party rehabilitate itself. In interviews, he said he supported electing a new chairman as soon as possible.

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“There is obviously a crisis in the party but there is also energy,” Harish told the MKs.

“I believe Labor has the potential to regain the support of the public, especially now when social democratic policies have gained new legitimacy from the international economic crisis.”

Harish said with pride that he, unlike other former top Labor officials, remained a party member even in the toughest times. But it was important for him to make clear that he had no personal political ambitions.

“I don’t intend to return to politics and run for Knesset again,” he said. “I have been living well lately, and I didn’t miss the 18-hour workdays.”

Putting current Labor squabbles in perspective, Harish recalled the disputes between former Labor rivals Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres that occurred when he was secretary-general. He said those disputes were not simple to deal with but Labor managed to overcome them and win 44 seats in the 1992 election.

Harish was appointed unanimously by the eight remaining Labor MKs.

While some party officials privately criticized Harish as being “too gray to head the party, even temporarily,” MK Shelly Yacimovich said he was exactly what was needed.

“We don’t need someone charismatic now,” she said.

“We need a man who can get things done.”

MK Amir Peretz will present Labor’s first no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government on Tuesday. He said he would focus on diplomatic, socioeconomic and civil issues in his speech.

The final ministry changeovers took place on Monday, when Isaac Herzog turned over the Welfare and Social Services Ministry to the Likud’s Moshe Kahlon and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer gave up his Industry, Trade, and Labor portfolio to his sworn rival, Independence faction MK Shalom Simhon.

Ben-Eliezer made a point of stinging former Labor chairman and current Independence faction head Ehud Barak in his parting address to ministry staff.

“You came here to make sure I am leaving, but don’t worry, I am really going,” Ben-Eliezer told Barak. “This is not an easy departure for me. It’s like having a Caesarean section.”

Ben-Eliezer warned all ministers to watch themselves, because “someone may be lying in wait for you around the corner.”

Simhon told Ben-Eliezer that he was taking over his ministry with a heavy heart.

“I know it will surprise you to hear me say this, but Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, I love you,” Simhon told his archrival.

“I was marked as your successor in the Labor Party as someone with political capabilities and a man of action. It is a shame that I am succeeding you in a different political framework.”

In his first comments on the split in the Labor Party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio that his heart went out to Labor and that Barak’s move to break up the party proved the urgent need for electoral reforms.

Responding to the possibility that ongoing deliberations in the State Attorney’s Office could result in him having to leave the leadership of his own party, Lieberman said that Israel Beiteinu had no interest in leaving Netanyahu’s government and that he was not concerned about his party’s future.

“We will win 20 seats regardless of who is on our list in the next election,” Lieberman said.

Ron Friedman contributed to this report.

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