The Labor Party central committee approved party chairman Ehud Barak's proposal on Sunday to remove Labor from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition if he does not quit by the time the Winograd Report comes out in September or October.
Barak did not speak about removing Labor from the government in his speech to the central committee at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. He referred to the issue vaguely by saying, "My opinion on Winograd, as I said on May 8, is unchanged."
The central committee voted on leaving the government and on the appointment of MK Matan Vilna'i as deputy defense minister in one vote. The move confused many members and angered Barak's political opponents. Barak's foes pointed out that Vilna'i's appointment did not require approval. They said the vote was illegal, because the 200 committee members who attended out of 2,700 were not enough for a quorum.
"Now that Barak and [new Labor chief of staff] Eldad Yaniv are in charge, the party does not abide by any laws anymore and everything will be done with political thievery," one MK said.
Labor activist Dani Cohen, who worked as a strategist for MK Ami Ayalon in last month's Labor leadership race, accused Barak of "disregarding party laws and acting like a bully."
"Barak remains Barak, and I don't mean in a good way," he said. "He reminds the people of Israel who he is and why they shouldn't want him."
Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel responded to the charges by saying that the vote "passed by a wide margin, so it doesn't matter."
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines raised a proposal to eliminate an additional primary set to be held ahead of the next general election. He told the crowd he did not want such an important decision passed quickly in a manner that could be perceived as a political trick, so he asked that the proposal not be voted on in Sunday's meeting and instead the committee voted to turn it over to Labor's law committee for deliberations.
Cohen said Paz-Pines's proposal was also illegal, because the central committee was not authorized to deal with the issue or refer it to another party organ. But Paz-Pines said he went out of his way to avoid such charges, because the matter was so important.
"We went through a race that stretched for five long months and Barak was elected," Paz-Pines said. "I think Labor doesn't need to have endless elections. We, as a serious party, as Israel's most democratic party, need to reconsider our procedure for when we hold primaries. Democracy is not anarchy. Let's let Ehud Barak lead the party."
But Paz-Pines said if Barak lost the general election, the party should hold another primary within 14 months. He praised Barak for keeping his promise to him to hold a vote in the central committee on leaving Olmert's government.
In his speech to the committee, Barak called for general elections in 2008 and for party unity. He said as defense minister he would work to restore Israel's deterrence, while working to advance the diplomatic process.
"The government has a moral, historical and personal obligation to do everything possible to advance peace," Barak said. "But we must understand that diplomatic agreements can only be achieved from a position of strength. Only a strong and confident Israel can convince our enemies that Israel cannot be defeated by terror. We need to have one hand outstretched in peace and one hand with a finger ready on the trigger."
Barak reached out to the women who protested in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Saturday night against the plea bargain reached with former president Moshe Katsav.
"As a father of three daughters, I think security in Israel includes the right of women to feel secure when they walk down the street, serve in the army and work in a government office," he said. "We have a long way to go before women could feel secure. I want to salute the women who complain of harassment, present and future, and I hope justice comes to light."
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