Kadima MKs battle over Justice panel

Spat over chairmanship of Justice Committee exposes cracks inside party.

Another crisis seems to be brewing within Kadima, over chairmanship of the Knesset Justice Committee. Two of its MKs are demanding the job from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, causing a headache for the party's leaders. MK Menahem Ben-Sasson claims Olmert promised him the post before the election and that Kadima was on the verge of announcing his appointment but postponed because of pressure from his colleague MK David Tal. On Tuesday, rumors that Ben-Sasson had threatened to resign from the legislature, just as Prof. Uriel Reichman did after not being appointed education minister, were reported on the radio, prompting his spokesman to issue a denial "that he had taken such a step." The spokesman also, however, said that Ben-Sasson was "sure and confident that he will receive the chairmanship of the committee." The dilemma is a thorny one for Olmert, who convinced his friend Ben-Sasson, former rector of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to leave academia for the political world. His resignation could seriously demoralize the new party. On the other hand there's David Tal, a veteran MK formerly of Shas and then Am Ehad (Amir Peretz's old party), who joined Kadima after supporting then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in a number of crucial votes in the last Knesset. Tal was promised he would be a deputy minister or the head of a senior committee, but Olmert has since decided there would be no deputy ministers. The rest of the main committees have already been accounted for, and Justice is the only possibility left. In addition, Tal is close to former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, who in turn is close to Olmert. For all these reasons, more than a month after the Knesset's swearing-in, the important committee isn't functioning and Olmert is in danger of estranging another member of his party. Another panel that still has no permanent head is the Absorption Committee. The chairmanship was offered to MK Marina Solodkin, who refused the job, claiming Olmert had promised her a ministry. The job will probably go to one of the other Russian MKs in Kadima, Zeev Elkin or Michael Nudelman, but a decision hasn't been made because Olmert still hopes Solodkin will accept the post. Tuesday was also a stormy day on another coalition front. Labor MK Yoram Marciano, who enraged the coalition's leaders last week by walking out of the state budget's first reading, voted with the opposition in the Knesset House Committee in favor of an urgent motion to discuss the wages of local authority workers in the plenum. Coalition chairman MK Avigdor Yitzhaki burst out, "What are you doing? You are a coalition member!" A shouting match ensued, after which Yitzhaki said that from then on the coalition wouldn't support any motions or bills introduced by Marciano. Marciano said in response, "I'm not an employee at his accounting firm and he can't fire me." Tal is one of the more experienced MKs as far as committee work is concerned and Olmert doesn't want to make an enemy of him.