Labor Party ministers took turns bashing party chairman Amir Peretz on Wednesday, a day after he defied them by abstaining in the vote on the 2007 state budget that passed in the cabinet with their support.
The ministers used much graver language when speaking anonymously than when they spoke on the record. They said that Peretz's relationship with his ministers had changed irrevocably and he would never be able to regain their respect.
"He lost his leadership over the ministers forever," a senior minister said. "The ministers felt he used us in a cheap gimmick to try to show the public that he is socio-economically minded and we are not. He pulled a maneuver and we are very angry at him. A party chairman cannot act that way."
One senior minister spoke of pulling Peretz aside to convince him to vote in favor of the budget.
"It was as though I was trying to convince a young child... he behaved nothing like a true leader," he said. "The rest of us understood the logical implication of our vote, and he was acting on pure emotion."
Other ministers reacted even more harshly, calling him "retarded" and saying that he "displayed childish stubbornness" and "acted like a baby and not like a leader."
On the record, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon cynically called Peretz a "big democrat" and expressed hope that he understands the need to pass the budget in the Knesset by the December 31 deadline.
"He has problems surrendering even when he has to," Simhon said. "I understand his conscience, but it is not right that he went against the party when he should have respected our opinion."
Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ophir Paz-Pines added in an interview with Army Radio that "a leader can't run a party by himself."
Peretz refused to be drawn into a debate with his ministers, but he defended his behavior. He said the ministers decided to vote in favor of the budget while he was absent, because Finance Ministry officials allocated additional funding to them to buy their support.
"I respect the Labor ministers, but I have a responsibility as the party chairman to fight for our principles," Peretz said.
Peretz responded to the threat to his leadership by calling for the rebels to challenge him in the party primaries.
"We are a democracy. I believe that the only party that leads an entirely democratic agenda is Labor. I only suggest to choose the right timing and the right framework, and not to do it in ways that do not add credit to the Labor Party," he said. "My colleagues will decide who will lead the party. I will enter this race and I believe that I will win it."
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