A Tel Aviv District Court judge ruled against Ben-Eliezer on Sunday and ordered him to pay the party NIS 31,500 for its court expenses. The judges rebuked Ben-Eliezer, writing in their decision that his case "reeks of using the court as a political tool." Ben-Eliezer responded that he was seriously considering taking his party to the Supreme Court in order to ensure that the 30,000 would be able to exercise their right to decide who the party's leader will be.
"I am not using the court as a tool," Ben-Eliezer told The Jerusalem Post. "But 129,000 people spent money to join the party and suddenly 30,000 have been disqualified and I am their only voice. The party took a crazy step by closing the door before thousands of people at a time of incredible opportunity to take advantage of the disengagement and return to power."
Ben-Eliezer complained that Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel decided to force the disqualified members to go to the Interior Ministry to get documents proving that they are related to people who registered them to the party. He accused the party leadership of conspiring to allow incumbent Shimon Peres to be re-elected so he could then lose the premiership to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then make way for someone else.
"There are people in Labor who are unfortunately convinced that this is the election to be Sharon's number two," Ben-Eliezer said. "People say let's let Peres lose so they can replace him. The others say let's support Peres to block Amir Peretz. No one except me is talking about beating the Likud."
Ben-Eliezer said that, if he was elected, he could get thousands of votes from Likud voters as Labor did when it was victorious in 1992 and 1999.
The name-calling and mutual recriminations in the race have intensified in recent days. Ben-Eliezer has called the leaders of the party "a gang of suicidal Shiites." Minister-without-Portfolio Matan Vilna'i's campaign introduced a new slogan, "Peres and Peretz = Meretz." Peres said of Peretz that "his ego has grown like a mushroom."
Peretz, who completed a whistle-stop tour of Likud strongholds over the weekend by forming a "revolution succa" across from Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, accused Peres of being behind a petition to an internal Labor court asking to fine Peretz for sending bottles of grape juice to Labor members with Peretz's slogan on the label. The petition accused Peretz of violating the law against selling blessings and kabbalistic items for votes.
"This strange petition shows that Peres's campaign has lost its marbles," Peretz's spokesman said. "Peres should be explaining why he is still in the government instead of petitioning against grape juice." Peres denied any connection to the petition.
He told a crowd at a political rally in Dimona on Sunday that "had the Likud not taken power in 1977, the money that went to the settlements would have gone to the Negev and the desert would have been blooming by now."
|More about:||Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Eitan Cabel|