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 onTuesday at a press conference at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov in which heannounced 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 forPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his close ally, defense ministerand former Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
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"The prime minister is weak and captive in the hands of his foreignminister," Peretz said. "Netanyahu not only refuses to make peace heactually schemes against it. The behavior of the prime minister willmake Israel pay a hefty price that goes up every day."
Peretz admitted that Labor was not in a place where its leader couldbe considered a serious candidate for prime minister. He did not ruleout Labor running with Kadima or other parties in the next election,and he promised to not follow the lead of Barak, who took the partyinto a national-unity government led by Netanyahu.
"There are Right-wing governments that need a poodle to support itsright-wing agenda and Left-wing governments that need a party on theRight to promote its agenda," Peretz said. "The same way that [IsraelBeiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman was the poodle in [former primeminister Ehud] Olmert's government, Barak is a poodle for the Righttoday. I will not join any government led by Netanyahu or anyone tothe 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 joiningNetanyahu's government. All three MKs will support Peretz's run. It isunclear whether Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Avishay Braverman, the onlyother two Labor MKs who are not running, will endorse a candidate.
Admitting that he and his allies nearly decided to leave Labor whenBarak split the party, Peretz said they decided to instead helprebuild the party from the opposition. He vowed to remain in Labor nomatter who wins the election.
Regarding the four cabinet seats given to Barak's five-MK breakawayIndependence faction, Peretz said, "If four ministers for five MKs isnot political corruption, I don't know what is." He contrasted thelifestyle of Netanyahu revealed by his travel scandal with his ownsmall house in Sderot, where his children and grandchild live with himand his wife.
Peretz started the press conference with a mea culpa in which heapologized for accepting the Defense portfolio after he led Labor to19 seats in the 2006 election. He said he took the job only afterOlmert refused to make him finance minister and that from the DefenseMinistry, he made smart decisions like initiating the Iron Domemissile defense system while promoting his socioeconomic agenda.
Promising a "socioeconomic Iron Dome," he said he would insist on keysteps to help poor families get by financially and enable youngcouples to purchase a home. He also expressed support for enactingdirect regional elections, which he said would enable the poorestsectors to be represented better.
While Peretz resisted invitations to criticize his opponents, Herzogattacked Peretz and Yacimovich willingly. He warned Labor activists ata rally in Beersheba on Monday night that they would make Labor into aniche party like Peretz's short-lived Am Ehad, which won three seatsin the 2003 election.
Yacimovich welcomed the candidacy of Peretz, who brought her intopolitics from the press shortly after he defeated current presidentShimon Peres in the 2005 Labor leadership primary. Peretz lost theparty chairmanship to Barak a year and a half later.
"Having multiple candidates is good for the party, because it addslife to Labor and makes people want to join its ranks," she said. "Idon't fear democracy. I am sure Labor members are smart and willchoose the candidate who will know best how to bring the most newyoung supporters and restore the faith of the public in the party."