Barak: 'Labor needs to stop the backstabbing'

Ben-Eliezer says he did not plan to attack Labor Party's leadership, after Eini calls Defense Minister an "idiot."

311_Barak at Labor HQ with double chin (photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)
311_Barak at Labor HQ with double chin
(photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)
One-time allies Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer traded blows Thursday, as the battle for the leadership of the foundering Labor Party intensified on the day the party marked the assassination of its former leader Yitzhak Rabin.
“It is a pity that in the peace camp, we don’t know how to join together and avoid undermining each other,” Party Chairman Barak complained during a party function Thursday evening in Holon, held to mark the Rabin anniversary.
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“We have not lost the way, even after the loss of Yitzhak [Rabin, 15 years ago]. Peace and security are vital interests for the country, and the chance of achieving them is the main reason that we are part of the government,” he told Labor Party steering committee members during the event.
“If only we knew how to overcome our urges and to avoid the behind-the- scenes backstabbing that Yitzhak Rabin so frequently criticized. We do not excel at tolerance and mutual respect in our public dialogue, in our intra-party dialogue and also in the dialogue between individuals.”
Barak’s comments were his second retort of the day to a verbal assault launched on Wednesday evening by Ben-Eliezer and by Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini. While Ben-Eliezer took the stage at a Labor activists’ rally to announce that he believed that the party needed new leadership, Eini was giving an interview on Channel 2 calling Barak an “idiot” for employing an illegal foreign worker.
The defense minister’s first public response to those comments came during a Thursday morning interview on Israel Radio, in which he reiterated that he intended to continue to lead the party and “to struggle to maintain its course.”
“Hiring her was a mistake, and my wife admitted that mistake 10 months ago,” Barak said of the scandal over the illegal Filipino worker.
He said his wife, Nili Priel, had apologized when the scandal was first revealed and made clear then that she was willing to pay the fine that “every Israeli citizen is required to pay” when found to have hired an illegal worker.
“If it were Eini’s brother, the matter would have ended with simply a fine,” Barak retorted, adding later that “I believe that Eini’s family members also make mistakes and I don’t want to go further and say who makes more.”
Barak asserted that the story had been deliberately pumped up in the media, and that far from being given preferential treatment as a prominent public figure, he was getting detrimental and unfair treatment over the matter.
Although Eini and Ben-Eliezer are considered to be close allies, Ben- Eliezer denied Thursday that the attack had been coordinated in advance.
Following Ben-Eliezer’s comments, which were made at an event attended by Barak ally Weitzman Shiri, Labor’s director-general Barak cancelled a meeting with Ben-Eliezer that had been scheduled for Thursday.
Ben-Eliezer, who emphasized during his Wednesday address that he had no intention of running for the party’s leadership, lashed back during a Thursday visit to the Standards Institution of Israel. “Everything that I said was to ensure a strong Labor Party, the beginning of a return to the front of the political stage, and efforts to bring back to its ranks those who abandoned it,” he said..
Despite his protestations, Ben- Eliezar did toss out a not-so-veiled reference to Barak, admonishing that “all those who see themselves as hurt should begin to think about what were the intentions of my comments – to restore the party and return it to its past glory.”