Their election campaign has yet to officially kick off, but Labor party officials said Monday that they were already butting heads with Kadima over the direction of the elections.
"There is a conflict between Sharon's people trying to take the election in the direction of defense issues, and [Labor] trying to refocus public attention on humanitarian issues," said Ronnen Tzur, a campaign manager for Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz. "Our message is that it is not just national security which is important, but social security as well."
The term "social security" has already been touted as the focus of the campaign, emphasizing Peretz's promise to give Israelis socio-economic security, a spokesman said. The official slogan will likely include some play on that term.
"Some people are trying to take this campaign in different directions," said Amir Peretz in Monday's Labor faction meeting in the Knesset. "I hope nothing will happen to distract Israelis into focusing on other issues."
"I am sure that at the end of the day, socio-economic issues are of the utmost importance to Israelis," he added.
While one Labor official stressed that Peretz would not "ignore the issue of defense," others argued that the Israeli public was becomingly increasingly wary of election campaigns that focused solely on Israel's security issues.
"I am convinced that Sharon has no plans and no idea what he is going to do next term," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines, the strategic team chairman of the election campaign. "There is an image of Sharon as a strong defense leader but many of his policies come from the Labor Party."
"Right now we are trying to catch the attention of the old Likud members who have now switched to Sharon's party [Kadima] to tell them that Sharon is not capable of taking care of the socio-economic needs of Israel," Tzur said regarding Labor's current advertisement campaign.
"What is clear, at the moment, is that the election campaign will be twofold: To keep those who have recently joined as a result of Peretz's election to party chairman, and to encourage veteran party members to continuing to think of Labor as their home," Paz-Pines said.
One of Peretz's top advisor's, Motti Morel, raised a political storm Thursday when he suggested that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might escalate violence in the territories for his own political gain. Morel suggested that a renewed public interest in the security situation on the eve of elections would serve Sharon by distracting public attention from social issues.
"Security is an issue that enjoys a consensus and I will not enter in public debate over it," said Peretz. "The election campaign will be run on social issues."
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