'Barak will continue to lead the Labor Party'

Defense minister's office responds to Ben-Eliezer and Eini's calls to replace Labor's leadership; Barak to Eini: "Shed your 'street language.'"

Barak sitting Knesset (photo credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP)
Barak sitting Knesset
(photo credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP)
A meeting planned for Thursday morning between Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former Labor Party secretary general Weizmann Shiri, and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was cancelled following comments made Wednesday by Ben-Eliezer and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini to replace the Labor Party's leadership.
The defense minister office issued a response Wednesday night to the comments saying, "The Labor Party has a constitution, institutions and processes that are accepted by party members, and they will not accept the private initiatives of ministers or dignitaries, as important as they are. Defense Minister Ehud Barak intends to continue to lead the party and act in his position as defense minister, in the pursuit of peace and security for Israel. Everything else will be discussed within the party and not at conferences or on television interviews."
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In response to Eini's comments describing the defense minister as an “idiot” for employing an illegal Filipino laborer while serving as a government minister, officials close to Barak said, "At his (Eini) age and standing, it would be advisable for him to shed his 'street language' and adopt a language and style befitting for the public."
Eini, a Labor Party strongman who was instrumental in negotiating Labor’s entry into current coalition, attacked Barak during a Channel 2 television interview, saying that the party needed a “real leader” to rise above its current record low in voter support.
Barak's associates also commented on Ben-Eliezer's involvement in the Labor Party, saying, "Ben-Eliezer is a veteran party member and has been a full partner in leading the party for the past 25 years, and also for the past two and a half years."
Earlier Wednesday evening,Ben-Eliezer, at a major party function, called for an external candidate to lead the troubled Labor Party.
Although the official date for the primaries is still distant, potential candidates have already begun overtly jockeying for position, with Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, one of the candidates, calling to advance the primaries to this coming June.
Ben-Eliezer, in an address to some 500 Labor Party activists in Ramat Gan, telling them that “the Labor Party needs a brave and new leadership that will return Labor to the forefront of the political stage – a leadership that will prevent the “six-mandate prophecy” and will prove to all the mockers that the party’s path has not come to an end, and it still has a future.
“The prophecy will not change with the current leadership, no matter who takes center stage,” he said.
Ben-Eliezer emphasized that he does not plan on vying for the leadership, nor is he interested in serving as the party’s temporary chairman.
“I did not come here for honor, for headlines, or for titles. I came to struggle together with all of you over the ideological direction of our party, to return the Labor movement to its past glory in the eyes of the public.”
He emphasized that he does not “support any of the candidates at this time” but said that at the right time “we will know to chose the right leader,” who was likely not to be found among any of the current contenders.
Party activists who support Herzog have reportedly already begun to gather signatures to try to advance the party’s primaries to June 2011, four years after party chairman Ehud Barak took the reins.
Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman also intends to run against Barak, and some believe that MK Shelly Yacimovich may be another likely contender for the chair.
“Friends, the day is not distant on which we will need to make difficult decisions regarding our presence in the government, if the diplomatic processes do not bear fruit,” warned Ben-Eliezer, in a message welcomed by those Labor supporters who still oppose participation in the Likud-run government.
“We still need to give the peace process a chance, but the window of opportunity is closing,” he said.
“Even today, when we are at the most difficult crossroads in the party’s history, some of our elected representatives continue to act in darkness and shadow, knitting together political moves and feeding the press with crumbs of complaints and hatred against the party in which they live and serve,” he lamented.