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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite Labor's objections, Interior Minister, Ronny Bar-On was appointed on Sunday as a member of Judges Selection Committee. Sources in the party said that the disagreement wouldn't lead to a crisis within the coalition but it has definitely exacerbated the deep tension already existing in Labor and also created a flurry of rumors over the reasons behind Bar-On's appointment.
The coalition agreement signed between Kadima and Labor included a seat for Labor on the powerful committee, which will have even greater influence than usual in the coming months due to the fact that five new Supreme Court Justices have to be appointed and the question of Chief Justice, Aharon Barak's successor will be decided. There are nine members on the committee, three judges, two ministers, two Knesset members (one of the opposition) and two representatives of the Bar Association. The committee is co-chaired by the Justice Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
At the end of last week, Labor Chairman Amir Peretz demanded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remove the appointment of Bar-On as the second minister on the committee from Sunday's cabinet agenda. Labor claimed that since its chosen representative to the committee, was Culture, Science, and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines, he should be the second minister, and not Bar-On. Olmert and Justice Minister Ehud Olmert were adamant that Bar-On be appointed, giving Kadima two senior representatives on the committee, and insisted that Labor nominate an MK to the committee.
Kadima insisted that the coalition agreement didn't stipulate whether Labor's meeting had to be a minister or an MK, while Labor argued that Kadima couldn't decide for Labor who their representative should be. On Sunday morning, Labor ministers met before the cabinet meeting and decided to vote against Bar-On's appointment, which still had a large majority among the ministers.
Sources in Labor said after the vote in the cabinet that they didn't blame Olmert or Ramon, since the coalition agreement was indeed unclear on that point. But their was blame for Peretz who had promised Paz-Pines the position as a compensation for his receiving a only a junior cabinet post, and had proved powerless to keep his promises. Peretz wasn't even capable of ensuring Labor unity during the vote, when two of the parties ministers, Shalom Simhon and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer didn't participate, instead of voting against the Bar-On's appointment, further angering Paz-Pines. The minister had served over the last few days a go-between, achieving compromises between Peretz and the "rebel quintet" of Labor MKs opposed to his leadership. Sunday's disappointment with Peretz seems to have pushed Paz-Pines towards the rebel camp.
Labor sources said after the vote that "Ramon wants Bar-On on the committee as part of the grand-plan that he hatched with their mutual friend Arie Deri and they were worried that Paz-Pines would ruin their plan." Ten years, Deri at the time chairman of Shas, was indicted for illegally engineering the appointment of Bar-On, then a lawyer in the private sector, as Attorney General. According to the Labor sources, Deri and his friends haven't given up on their dream of drastically changing the judiciary.
Ramon's spokesman refused to comment on the allegations but sources close to him insisted that it was Kadima's prerogative to have two ministers on the committee and that it was Olmert who had decided on the identity of the second member. "Pines is just using these accusation to cover up his over-ambition that hasn't been satisfied" they said.