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Ben Gurion University President Avishay Braverman announced Thursday his enlistment in the Labor Party, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who sought to enlist him to his new party.
The move was announced at a joint press conference conducted together with Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz. While Prof. Braverman officially joined the party, no prospective position was mentioned.
Braverman and Peretz publicly exchanged kind words. The university president said, "When Peretz joined the Labor party, I knew it would revolutionize the movement, and his election was the catalyst that convinced me to join." Peretz returned the compliment, calling Braverman "a man of the world and a man of the people."
During the conference he vehemently denied recent rumors in the media of his intentions to join Sharon's new party. He called the rumors "unfounded," and stated that he never considered joining Sharon.
Meanwhile, Sharon's new political party officially came into being on Thursday morning when Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson, MK Ruhama Avraham and Sharon adviser Yoram Raved delivered the necessary documents to party registrar Yaron Keidar.
The party was registered officially under the name Kadima (forward, in Hebrew).
The name Kadima was initially raised on Monday night after Sharon used the word in his press conference when he talked about moving the country in the right direction. But on Tuesday, Sharon turned back to "the National Responsibility Party," a name that was intended to be temporary but was officially recognized as the faction's name by the Knesset House Committee on Wednesday.
"Kadima broadcasts positive messages about momentum and moving forward," a Sharon strategist said. "It scored just as well in our focus groups and studies as the National Responsibility Party, but it is much less cumbersome." The 16 MKs in the new faction will convene on Thursday at the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv to discuss the party's goals and strategies. An office has been found for the party on moshav Be'erot Yitzhak, near Lod, and banners will already be hung on billboards nationwide on Thursday bearing the slogan "Sharon: A strong leader for peace."
Sharon's strategy in the campaign will be to emphasize the differences between him and Labor chairman Amir Peretz. Sharon will ignore the front-runner for the Likud leadership, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"We wont run against Bibi because he is a threat to the National Union, not to us," a Sharon strategist said. "This is a race between a proven leader like Sharon, who thinks things through and knows what he is doing, and an extreme leftist, inexperienced, strike instigator with a mustache."
Sharon's associates said that no serious talks with public figures about joining the party would begin until next week. They said that former Shin-Bet chief Avi Dichter had already agreed to join the party but it was still too early to discuss names like former minister Dan Meridor or Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.
Unofficial talks have been held with Shinui MKs Yigal Yasinov and Hemi Doron, Labor MK Eli Ben-Menachem and Meimad leader Rabbi Michael Melchior. But Likud MK Daniel Benlulu decided against joining the party on Wednesday and Sharon's associates ruled out the possibility of Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass running for Knesset.
Sharon intends to host an event for mayors next week in an effort to attract them to the party. Likud MK Gilad Erdan appealed to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Wednesday to protest a meeting with Likud mayors that Finance Minister Ehud Olmert is hosting on Sunday. Erdan called the meeting "an election bribe."