Yecimovitch, amit, yatom.
(photo credit: Knesset)
Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz proved once again his ability to snatch victory from the brink of defeat, as he survived his first challenge to the party leadership Sunday.
The opposition to Peretz came in the form of a crucial vote in the Labor Party's central committee over the manner in which the party would decide its ministerial lineup. Although Peretz won the vote by a small margin of 34 votes (less than 3%), the victory was seen as a mandate for the Chairman to continue his leadership of the party.
"Today we proved to everyone that we are the most democratic party in Israel," said Peretz after the results of the vote were announced. For party members, however, the vote was greater proof that they were prepared to allow Perez to continue to lead.
MKs Danny Yatom and Matan Vilna'i led the charge among party members who were dissatisfied with Peretz's ministerial appointments. Instead of approving Peretz's list of ministers, the opposition MKs pushed for the central committee to take the matter into their own hands and call for party-wide elections for the ministerial spots.
"The easiest thing for me would have been to ask the Central Committee to choose the list [of ministers], I could have relieved myself of the responsibility and just said ok, and let them choose," said Peretz. "But the truth is that you cannot have real authority without responsibility. Our coalition partners had to see that I could come with the authority, backing and support of the Labor Central committee."
Aides close to Peretz said that the Labor chairman had prepared for defeat in the party central committee, where he has accumulated many enemies during his primary and national campaigns.
"We all knew that Peretz had a growing list of enemies on the central committee who were going to use this as an excuse to embarrass him by making him look like a weak leader," said an MK close to Peretz.
Prior to the meeting, rumors raged that Yatom and Vilna'I were going to be joined by MKs Ami Ayalon, Avishay Braverman, and Colette Avital to form a separate faction in the Labor Party.
During the meeting, however, Peretz appeared to visibly win over the crowd by arguing that he had created his ministerial lineup with the good of the party in mind.
"Six out of Labor's seven ministerial candidates, according to the press, did not support me. I still chose the best Labor had to offer," Peretz said.
Ultimately, the list that Peretz managed to secure for the party included the Defense Ministry for himself, the Education Ministry for MK Yuli Tamir, the Ministry of Agriculture for MK Shalom Simhon, the Ministry of National Infrastructure for MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Ministry of Tourism for MK Isaac Herzog, and two ministries-without portfolios were designated as Ministry of Sport and Jerusalem for MK Ophir Paz-Pines and Ministry of Public Broadcast Communications for MK Eitan Cabel.
Leading up to the vote, it appeared unclear whether Paz-Pines would support Peretz or the opposition. At the last moment, Peretz combined the Jerusalem and Sport portfolios to sway Paz-Pines, said Labor officials close to Peretz.
"He knew he was going to need every last MK to be fighting for him," said one Labor MK. "In the end he was right, he won by only 34 votes."
During his speech to the party's central committee, Peretz also promised that MK Avishay Braverman would be given a ministerial post during the government's current term. Although many questioned how such a promise was possible, (the Labor Party was not expected to receive any more portfolios), the committee greeted the promise with a standing ovation.
Meanwhile, Peretz's opponents were greeted with boos as they took the podium to argue their case.
"You cannot deny that we failed in the elections," said Vilna'i. "We wend down from 22 mandates to 19."
Peretz's challengers took care to note, however, that the challenge to the ministerial list was not intended as a direct challenge for the party leadership.
"This has been spun into something it never was," said Ayalon. "We never voiced this as a party takeover, we simply disagreed with the way coalition negotiations had been undertaken."
Aides to Peretz, however, said that the challenge would have ultimately weakened Peretz's ability to lead the party had he lost the vote.