Peretz joins Labor race, shuns partnership

Former defense minister and party chair says he has support of three Knesset members; Herzog voices concerns over Peretz's leadership.

Amir Peretz and Labor 4 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Amir Peretz and Labor 4 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
New Labor leadership contender Amir Peretz came out swinging on
Tuesday at a press conference at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov in which he
announced that he will run in the party's September 12 primary.
Peretz made a point of not criticizing his competition in the race,
MKs Isaac Herzog and Shelly Yacimovich. But he spared no insults for
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his close ally, defense minister
and former Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
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"The prime minister is weak and captive in the hands of his foreign
minister," Peretz said. "Netanyahu not only refuses to make peace he
actually schemes against it. The behavior of the prime minister will
make Israel pay a hefty price that goes up every day."
Peretz admitted that Labor was not in a place where its leader could
be considered a serious candidate for prime minister. He did not rule
out Labor running with Kadima or other parties in the next election,
and he promised to not follow the lead of Barak, who took the party
into a national-unity government led by Netanyahu.
"There are Right-wing governments that need a poodle to support its
right-wing agenda and Left-wing governments that need a party on the
Right to promote its agenda," Peretz said. "The same way that [Israel
Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman was the poodle in [former prime
minister Ehud] Olmert's government, Barak is a poodle for the Right
today. I will not join any government led by Netanyahu or anyone to
the Right of him, period."
Peretz was joined at the press conference by Labor MKs Eitan Caleb,
Ghaleb Majadleh, and Daniel Ben-Simon, who all opposed joining
Netanyahu's government. All three MKs will support Peretz's run. It is
unclear whether Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Avishay Braverman, the only
other two Labor MKs who are not running, will endorse a candidate.
Admitting that he and his allies nearly decided to leave Labor when
Barak split the party, Peretz said they decided to instead help
rebuild the party from the opposition. He vowed to remain in Labor no
matter who wins the election.
Regarding the four cabinet seats given to Barak's five-MK breakaway
Independence faction, Peretz said, "If four ministers for five MKs is
not political corruption, I don't know what is." He contrasted the
lifestyle of Netanyahu revealed by his travel scandal with his own
small house in Sderot, where his children and grandchild live with him
and his wife.
Peretz started the press conference with a mea culpa in which he
apologized for accepting the Defense portfolio after he led Labor to
19 seats in the 2006 election. He said he took the job only after
Olmert refused to make him finance minister and that from the Defense
Ministry, he made smart decisions like initiating the Iron Dome
missile defense system while promoting his socioeconomic agenda.
Promising a "socioeconomic Iron Dome," he said he would insist on key
steps to help poor families get by financially and enable young
couples to purchase a home. He also expressed support for enacting
direct regional elections, which he said would enable the poorest
sectors to be represented better.
While Peretz resisted invitations to criticize his opponents, Herzog
attacked Peretz and Yacimovich willingly. He warned Labor activists at
a rally in Beersheba on Monday night that they would make Labor into a
niche party like Peretz's short-lived Am Ehad, which won three seats
in the 2003 election.
Yacimovich welcomed the candidacy of Peretz, who brought her into
politics from the press shortly after he defeated current president
Shimon Peres in the 2005 Labor leadership primary. Peretz lost the
party chairmanship to Barak a year and a half later.
"Having multiple candidates is good for the party, because it adds
life to Labor and makes people want to join its ranks," she said. "I
don't fear democracy. I am sure Labor members are smart and will
choose the candidate who will know best how to bring the most new
young supporters and restore the faith of the public in the party."