Politicians trade barbs at new year's toasts

Peretz lashes out, Olmert steers clear of Syrian issue, Feiglin scuffles over Likud seating.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
September 6, 2007 23:00
4 minute read.

 
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Former Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz was voted "loser of the year" in a poll broadcast on Israel Radio on Thursday, but at a pre-Rosh Hashana toast he hosted at Labor's Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Peretz showed no signs of accepting defeat. The poll of a representative sample of 441 Israelis found that 60 percent considered Peretz the year's biggest loser, beating out MKs Ami Ayalon, Silvan Shalom and Reuven Rivlin. The big "winner of the year," according to the poll, was President Shimon Peres. Surrounded by hundreds of supporters, Peretz questioned whether Defense Minister Ehud Barak had legally won the June 12 Labor primary. He lashed out at Barak for firing party workers and vowed to return his "socioeconomic camp" in the party to power. "I won't let Labor become a shell party," Peretz said, referring to a party with one man at the top and no party branches or grassroots behind him. "The party needs rehabilitation, but firing 17 workers is not the way to save the party." Although he reached out to Barak and offered to cooperate with him, he said he would not let Barak get away with running the party with a small group of people, which Peretz has called a "cult" in recent days, while ignoring the rest of the party's leaders. In an interview Wednesday, Peretz went further, saying that Barak was being given too long a grace period by a public that had been much more impatient when Peretz was defense minister. "People thought a magician could come in with his wand and do magic to improve the security situation and poof, everything would be fixed," Peretz told Army Radio. "Now everyone understands due to the continuing security situation that the problems cannot be solved with magic tricks." At Peretz's toast, the former chairman's closest political ally, MK Yoram Marciano, lashed out at Barak for mistreating Peretz, himself and thousands of people Peretz had brought into the party. "I feel anger in Labor," Marciano said. "I feel that it's not my home. A party that acts this way toward its voters deserves having the voters treat it the same way in the ballot box. The man elected to head Labor, with his [Barak's] behavior, won't become prime minister." The crowd, which included recently-fired Labor employees, booed and heckled Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel. Scuffles broke out between the hecklers and people trying to quiet them. Cabel responded by daring the hecklers to vote him out of office. "In politics, the way you take revenge is in the ballot box," Cabel said. "No one will expel me from here." Meanwhile, at Kadima's new year's toast in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel must deal a strong blow to terrorists, while extending a hand of peace toward willing partners. "We will fight and hit hard and strong against those who are threatening the lives of our children, the lives of our citizens," said Olmert. "But we will also fight hard to give people hope for a peaceful future for this country." The speech cemented the new dual diplomatic approach first presented by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at the Knesset on Monday. Kadima officials said it represented the new platform Olmert planned to pursue in the coming year. "We will not hesitate to take any steps necessary to find a path that will bring Israel peace. This is the base, the center of Kadima. This is what makes Kadima different from the other political parties," Olmert said. He added, however, that there was no ready-made peace agreement "hidden under the table and ready to be signed." "For those who are concerned that the peace treaty has been signed and sealed, rest assured ... we have a long way ahead of us," said Olmert. He added that one of his top concerns for the coming year was to return the kidnapped IDF soldiers to Israel. Olmert's speech was applauded by more than 2,300 Kadima supporters who gathered in Binyanei Ha'umah. However, MKs from across the political spectrum expressed disappointment that Olmert did not address the Syrian claims of an IAF sortie, which had dominated the news throughout the day. At Likud's toast, party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu surprised a crowd of hundreds of activists at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds by not criticizing Olmert. Netanyahu also reconciled with his party rivals, MK Silvan Shalom and party activist Moshe Feiglin. After a speech in which Shalom refrained from attacking Netanyahu at his own toast on Wednesday, Shalom came to Netanyahu's toast and shook hands with him. "The primary is behind us, and as a unified party, we have to devote all our forces to replacing the government," Netanyahu told the crowd. Netanyahu shook hands with Feiglin after going out of his way to avoid a handshake from him following last month's Likud primary. However, a scuffle broke out at the event as Likud administration struggled unsuccessfully to prevent Feiglin from sitting at the table of honorees, saying the table was reserved for current and former MKs. "It's fitting that as someone who got nearly 25 percent of the vote, I should sit there," Feiglin said.

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