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Former prime minister Ehud Barak took off the gloves on Sunday and slammed MK Ami Ayalon, his competition for the Labor Party leadership in next Tuesday's runoff race.
Speaking to supporters at a rally in Beersheba, Barak called the agreement finalized between Ayalon and Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Sunday "an unholy alliance" that would inspire voters to shift their support from Ayalon to himself.
"Ayalon has been swept away by Peretz because of his inexperience," Barak said. "I feel support swinging toward us that will lead us to a big victory next week."
Sources close to Barak said Ayalon harmed himself by initially saying he would join Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government if he became Labor chairman, then ruling it out, and now reaching a deal with Peretz that would likely lead to Ayalon joining the government if he won the race.
"A lot of people tried to broker a deal between Barak and Peretz, but Ehud said, 'No way,' because he doesn't want to play a dirty game," a Barak associate said. "If Barak would have made such a deal, everyone would have cynically accused him of never having changed.
"Ami will lose the race because of this mistake. He will become a big joke in Labor, because he wanted to say he was clean and now he has become a political hack."
Ayalon thanked Peretz for his support, calling Peretz Israel's most important socioeconomic leader. He said that Peretz's endorsement was the first step toward his victory and toward forming a unified Labor leadership that would include all five candidates who ran in the first round and his close ally, MK Avishay Braverman.
Braverman said the gentleman's agreement between Ayalon and Peretz called for advancing diplomatic talks with moderate Arab states, implementing the party's socioeconomic platform, and for the Labor central committee to decide whether the party would remain in an Olmert-led government.
"Processes begin when you believe in them," Braverman said. ""When Ami wins, he will ask for the formation of a different government that is not led by Olmert, who doesn't have the public support to rehabilitate the country."
In a speech to hundreds of supporters at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters, Peretz pleaded with all the party's sectors to support Ayalon. With the logo of his new socioeconomic camp in the background, Peretz formally announced the formation of the camp, whose first test is electing Ayalon.
"I know that you all had different views about whom I should support," Peretz told the crowd. "But after listening to everyone, I reached the conclusion that in this battle, all of us in the socioeconomic camp must support the candidacy of Ami Ayalon."
Barak's campaign was quick to respond with quotes from the past of Ayalon and Peretz attacking each other. Two weeks ago, Peretz called Ayalon an opportunist, and Ayalon said that Peretz had a problem with his political credibility.
Earlier Sunday, the Barak campaign put up posters in kibbutzim with the slogan "You voted Ayalon, you got Peretz."
The posters were intended to take advantage of Peretz's poor image among kibbutz members. The Ayalon campaign released a statement in response accusing Barak of negative campaigning.
"Barak is under pressure because of his failure to win in the first round and his failure to obtain Peretz's support, so he has stooped to mudslinging against his party colleagues," the Ayalon campaign said. "This behavior has revealed the old Barak who hid [during] the entire campaign. Labor members don't want such divisions."
Peretz's campaign manager, MK Yoram Marciano, went further, accusing Barak of "initiating a racist campaign" by putting up the posters only in the Ashkenazi-dominated kibbutzim and not in periphery towns that are mainly Sephardi.
"They are trying to let the ethnic genie out of the lamp again," Marciano told the crowd. "They should stop using such dangerous slogans. Next week, they will see more and more votes for Ayalon because of this."