(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor leadership candidate Ami Ayalon has not been seen publicly together with defeated Labor chairman Amir Peretz since Peretz endorsed Ayalon on Sunday, but Ayalon's campaign said Monday that it was purely coincidental.
Ayalon did not attend Peretz's event on Sunday as had been expected, and no joint events for the two men have been planned, leading to speculation that Ayalon was purposely avoiding being seen with Peretz.
"There is no reason to hide him," a source close to Ayalon said. "All the theories in the press are wrong. Ami wants a unified party. The joining of Amir brings strength, not weakness."
In a meeting with his supporters in Tel Aviv, some Ayalon backers expressed skepticism about the benefits of his agreement with Peretz.
Ayalon reached out in the meeting to both Peretz and his rival in the June 12 runoff race, former prime minister Ehud Barak.
"I feel an obligation to ensure that Barak remains a leader in Labor and doesn't return to business abroad and that Amir remains a leader in Labor and doesn't retire to Sderot," Ayalon told reporters at the event.
Ayalon reached an agreement on Monday with Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle that he would work on Ayalon's behalf in the Arab sector. Ayalon also hopes to receive an endorsement from defeated leadership contender Ophir Paz-Pines.
Paz-Pines had intended to endorse Ayalon but now he is leaning toward endorsing neither candidate, because both have given indications recently that they would break campaign promises and serve in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government. Barak's close ally, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, tried to convince Paz-Pines on Monday to endorse Barak.
Defeated Labor leadership candidate Danny Yatom, who won 2.7 percent of the vote in the first round of the Labor race, announced in a press conference at the Knesset on Monday that he would be backing his former boss Barak in the June 12 runoff.
Yatom said he met with Barak and Ayalon and decided that he would support Barak, because Ayalon "lacks political, diplomatic, and parliamentary experience." He expressed confidence that Barak learned from his past mistakes.
"I am not looking at the past, only at the future," Yatom said. "Ehud learned the lessons he needs to. He will lead the party better this time around." Yatom formerly served as Barak's diplomatic and security chief when the latter was prime minister and worked closely with him in the army for decades. Yatom showed off a picture of him with Barak on a Sabena plane that was hijacked.
The Barak campaign released a statement thanking Yatom for his support, and calling him a "man of principles and quality, who has vast diplomatic and security experience." A campaign spokesman said Yatom would be among the leaders of Labor under Barak.
A source close to Ayalon responded that Yatom had carried Barak's bags for 40 years, and "now he's back carrying Barak's bags again."