Ayalon mulls backing March Labor race [pg. 4]

The leading candidate in the Labor Party leadership race, MK Ami Ayalon, is considering joining former prime minister Ehud Barak in pushing for the race to be held in March, an Ayalon loyalist said on Wednesday. The party's institutions had been expected to overwhelmingly endorse Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel's proposal to hold the contest on June 5 after every candidate except for Ayalon and Barak said they supported the date. But an endorsement from Ayalon would help Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon's rival proposal to hold the race on March 13. "Some of the people closest to him say he should be pushing to hold the race as soon as possible," the Ayalon loyalist said. The reasons for Ayalon to support an early race include his lead in the polls, a successful membership drive he has been conducting for months and his desire to replace incumbent Amir Peretz as defense minister as soon as possible. Holding the primary in March would prevent the party from holding a formal membership drive and would set a December 14 cutoff date for joining the party in order to vote in the race. Holding it in June would allow Labor to hold a membership drive that would end on March 6 and could bring hundreds of thousands of shekels to the party. Cabel estimated that about 60,000 new members would join the party, doubling the current 60,000. A regular membership costs NIS 90 per year, while minorities pay NIS 40. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is considered the strongman of the Labor central committee, said on Wednesday that a June race would be good for everyone in the party. "What matters now is allowing the party to rebuild itself, and the country and the IDF to recover from the war in Lebanon," Ben-Eliezer said. "The primary should be held in a good atmosphere at a time on which everyone can agree." The Labor executive committee will convene on Thursday at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters to discuss the date, which will be finalized at a December 14 central committee meeting. Peretz is set to give a major policy address at Thursday's meeting.