Peretz defends mass Labor Party membership drive

Amram Mitzna is expected to join party race with online message; Peretz has been criticized in past for membership drove tactics.

311_ amir peretz (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
311_ amir peretz
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
Labor leadership candidate Amir Peretz sought to turn a weakness into a strength on Tuesday when he referred to the thousands of members he is registering in the party’s membership drive as “stockholders with shares in a stock called the future of the State of Israel.”
Peretz has been criticized in the past for submitting crates full of members registered by vote contractors across the country. He was accused of using such controversial techniques when he defeated current president Shimon Peres for the Labor chairmanship in 2005.
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A membership drive that ends in June is expected to decide the September race. Peretz held a rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night to encourage his loyalists to sign up as many new members as possible by going from house to house.
“The time has come for people to understand that not everything in Israeli politics is dirty and that there is room for faith in a cause and a direction,” Peretz told the crowd of hundreds of supporters at the Exodia Hall.
The hall was full of red, white and blue balloons. Peretz came out to the crowd with pomp and circumstance and Mizrahi music.
Speakers at the event included MKs Eitan Cabel, Daniel Ben-Simon and Ghaleb Majadle, former MK Yoram Marciano, Haifa Histadrut labor federation leader Baruch Saltz, Druse activist Salah Saad, and Michal Zernowitski, a young haredi Ashkenazi woman who works in hi-tech.
Rather than attack his rivals for the Labor leadership, Peretz used his speech to attack Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on diplomatic and socioeconomic issues.
“The prime minister is always offered a cheap price and he ends up paying more later on,” Peretz said. “Mr. Prime Minister, you have a chance now. Don’t wait until you get to Washington where you will encounter Obama after assassinating Osama. Announce that you support a Palestinian state based on the pre-’67 border with territorial exchanges. If you say it, you will take the sting out of the anti-Israel campaign and return the ball to the Palestinians’ court.
“Surprise us, and make us eat our hats and say that we made a mistake.”
Cabel said that had Peretz not run, he wouldn’t have supported any of the candidates. He said Peretz was the only man capable of rehabilitating the troubled party.
“The game we are playing right now is the registration drive,” Cabel told the crowd. “The more we sign up, the more chance we have to save our political home.”
Former Labor chairman Amram Mitzna will become the sixth candidate in the race when he formally launches his campaign with an online speech on Wednesday. He will join MKs Peretz, Isaac Herzog and Shelly Yacimovich, venture capitalist Erel Margalit and Union of Local Authorities chairman Shlomo Buhbut.
Mitzna met on Tuesday with powerful Histradrut chief Ofer Ein and asked for his support. Eini has not said which candidate he will back.
The state comptroller will examine whether it was legal for Margalit to register thousands of Labor members via a campaign called Labor Now. Margalit himself initiated the probe and said he expected no wrongdoing to be found.