(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The first of the remaining Labor ministers quit the government Monday, following Defense Minister Ehud Barak's move to take four MKs with him and start a new faction on Sunday.
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Speaking at a press conference Monday afternoon, Isaac Herzog said that he is glad Barak left the party as it presents a chance to save the Labor party. Herzog said that he notified Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a short while earlier that he was quitting the government. He added that he hoped Labor Ministers Avishay Braverman and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer would join him shortly. Herzog said he spoke to party officials about preserving party unity and to decide on a date for new primary elections.
Herzog said that today, "Labor returns to being the political home of even those who felt betrayed by it."
Speaking in English, he concluded: "We will serve the people from the opposition. The Netanyahu government has come to a standstill in the peace process and in dealing with [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman's racist undertones. I will work with my colleagues to save the party."
Several hours later, Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman announced that he too is leaving the government and called on Industry Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to lead the party temporarily, at a press conference Monday afternoon.
Braverman said he believes "everyone in this country understands that Israel needs a strong Labor movement," adding that "a party is the sum of its supporters, not five MKs who leave or eight who stay." "The main problem of Labor is that it didn't stand up for its ideals."
Distinguishing Barak's move from former prime minister Ariel Sharon who left Likud to form Kadima, Braverman noted that "Sharon left Likud to advance peace and start a historic process." He slammed Barak, saying that the defense minister is splitting from Labor "to be a second-rate Likud at best and another Lieberman at worst."
Braverman added that Barak's move came a day before the Labor party's court was expected to rule that an internal vote must be taken to decide whether the party remains in the coalition if no direct peace process is taking place with the Palestinians.
Finally, the Labor MK said that he had asked Ben-Eliezer to temporarily lead the party and fix its constitution, which "Barak ruined."
Former Labor MK Ofir Pines-Paz criticized Barak and the four MKs who joined him in the "Independence" faction.
Addressing Barak's statement in his announcement speech that David
Ben-Gurion, Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres had all made similar moves to
break away from their parties in the past, Pines-Paz retorted that Barak
"cannot compare himself to Ben-Gurion or Sharon." He explained that
Ben-Gurion made his move for reasons of historical significance. Barak,
he said, is breaking away from Labor because of "personality conflicts"
within the party.
Pines-Paz went on to accuse Labor under Barak's leadership of renting
out the Left and the party to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's
government and contributing to the delegitimization of Israel, for not
working towards a settlement with the Palestinians.