Barak aims to pass controversial constitution which would grant him unprecedented powers on Wed.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak met with key ministers and MKs from his party late Tuesday night in an effort to avoid a split in his party that could result from Wednesday's Labor convention in Tel Aviv.
Barak intends to use the convention to pass a controversial new party constitution that would give him unprecedented powers. It would delay the next Labor leadership race from April 2010 to six months before the next general election, which is currently set for November 2013.
It would also set a 10-month minimum membership requirement to vote in a leadership race, which Barak's critics said would cause a repeat of mass registration drives that marred past Labor primaries with charges of forgeries and fraud.
Barak agreed to meet late Tuesday with opponents of the changes: ministers Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman and MKs Ophir Paz-Pines and Shelly Yacimovich. But the Labor leader's associates said that no compromises would come out of the meeting, he would not agree to the MKs' demands to delay the convention, and disciplinary action would be taken against his critics soon after the event.
Herzog warned before the meeting that if his demands were not met, he would join the Labor rebel MKs in boycotting the convention, which might leave Barak and his close ally, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, as the only MKs attending.
"Our party is on the verge of splitting, so we need dialogue," said Herzog, who is Labor's No. 2. "Barak should make an additional effort to listen to us. Even a man like me reaches a red line on what he can tolerate in the political atmosphere he is working in. We need to make every effort not to destroy or break up the party."
Labor rebel MKs said they wanted the constitution to pass as is, without changes, in the hope this would persuade other Labor MKs to join them in splitting the party. If this does not work, the four MKs may petition the Supreme Court to allow them to split on ideological grounds, despite not constituting a third of the faction.
"If the constitution passes, a split is likely," rebel MK Ophir Paz-Pines said. "Barak is a dictator of a one-man party, which has become a farce. Apparently we will need to form an alternative to Labor, a new Labor Party."
In a fierce exchange between party colleagues, rebel MK Eitan Cabel wrote a letter to the Labor faction saying that he was ashamed to be a Labor MK and that the founders of the party were turning over in their graves. Simhon responded in an equally fierce letter to Cabel accusing him of "populism and demagoguery."
"In your fervor to topple Barak, you are ignoring facts," Simhon wrote. "Your behavior is what is destroying the party and its democratic tradition."
In an interview with Israel Radio, Simhon said he was "sick and tired of sleeping with a gun to my head" from rebel MKs constantly threatening to split the party.
"The MKs are terrorized and bullied by the rebels," Barak's spokesman Ronen Moshe said on Army Radio. "Their only skill is in talking to the press. That's why all they do is attack Barak and smear Labor."
Following Moshe's interview, rebel MK Yuli Tamir's spokesman Kobi Alon sent a complaint letter to Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander, charging that Moshe had broken the law by maligning MKs as a government employee. Alon cited the Likud official who got in trouble with the law last month when she called Israel Beiteinu MK Orly Levy a bimbo.
Moshe responded that he would continue to say that Tamir was both ineffective and hypocritical, but he denied reports that in a conversation with Alon he had also called Tamir a "trash can."
Amid all the turmoil inside Labor, the Ynet Web site commissioned a Smith Research poll, which found that were Knesset elections to be held now, Labor would fall to a new record low of only six seats.
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