By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
The Labor Party suffered an embarrassment in Wednesday's leadership primary when 99-year-old former Histadrut chief Yitzhak Ben-Aharon was prevented from voting because his name wasn't found on the membership list.
Thousands of party members, including people who had been members for decades, were not found on the list for a variety of technical reasons, but none more famous than Ben-Aharon, who left the polling station near his home in Kibbutz Givat Haim disappointed.
A former transportation minister, he served in the Knesset from its founding until 1977.
Ben-Aharon, who intended to vote for Histadrut Chairman Amir Peretz, was told that his name was found on the Meretz membership list instead.
But Ben-Aharon said that he had joined Labor and had never joined Meretz. A Meretz spokesman confirmed that Ben-Aharon was not a member of the party.
"The claim that Ben-Aharon joined Meretz and no one knew about it, including himself, is ridiculous," Peretz's campaign spokesman said. "The people in charge of the membership list, especially Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel, are at fault for this."
Peretz's campaign vowed to make an extra effort to bring people to the polls "to redeem Yitzhak Ben-Aharon's honor."
Cabel responded that no exceptions could be made to the party's regulations.
"With all due respect to Ben-Aharon, there is no reason to allow a man to vote who didn't register," Cabel said. "It doesn't matter whether his name is Ben-Aharon or Joe Schmo."
Besides the Ben-Aharon episode, there were two incidents of irregularities in polling stations.
In the Arab village of Ka'abiya, 25 votes were found in a ballot box before voting had begun.
In Sderot, the Peres campaign complained about two Peretz supporters who were caught voting under different names.
The voting in the polling station was stopped for an hour, but Cabel rejected the Peres campaign's appeal to disqualify all the votes in the polling station.
"Two incidents are nothing when you consider what could have happened," Cabel said. "The election passed in an admirable way that brought respect to the party. No one hit each other. I hope all our elections go this way."
The three candidates, Shimon Peres, Amir Peretz, and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, all voted around 10:30 a.m., near their homes in Ramat Aviv, Sderot, and Rishon Lezion respectively.
All three were greeted at the polling stations by supporters shouting: "Ooh, ahh, here he comes, the next prime minister."
At a polling station in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, a musician named Yitzhak "Hofi" Hafuta, strummed on a guitar with pro-Peretz slogans painted on it.
He annoyed neighborhood residents by singing non-stop a song called "Let Peretz rise" to the tune of the song that former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin sang the night he was assassinated.