Labor rebels rally against Peretz

Will attempt to sway faction meeting; group upset with party's performance.

ami ayalon stern 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
ami ayalon stern 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Support for the group of Labor Party "rebel" MKs grew over the weekend, as its leadership prepared to present party members with a list of initiatives to "return the party to the people." MKs Ami Ayalon, Avishay Braverman, Colette Avital, Danny Yatom and Matan Vilna'i said they were upset with the party's performance in the past elections and the direction the party has taken since then. The group decided to form ahead of a key Labor faction meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon that will determine the timetable and regulations of the upcoming Labor Party primaries, said Avital. That meeting could be a turning point in which Labor Party chief Amir Peretz's cronies are ushered in, or given advantageous positions in the party system, said a Labor MK. "We are doing what we think is right for the party... we share similar concerns for the party," said Avital, who hosted the group's first meeting at her Tel Aviv home Thursday. Several topics were discussed at the first meeting, including Peretz's dismissal of Labor Party attorney Eldad Yaniv, elections to party institutions and calls to replace the Labor faction's chairman Eitan Cabel. "There has been a growing rebellion movement in the party, and a lot of people aren't happy," said one Labor MK. "The time has come to act and make a change before it is too late." The current group of MKs is not the first opposition to his leadership Peretz has faced. Many party members had voiced criticism of Peretz as early as the coalition talks following the recent elections. The Labor Party based their election campaign on a socioeconomic platform, often boasting that they would revolutionize the 2006 budget. In order to do so, the party would need to control the Finance Ministry. However, during coalition negotiations, Peretz settled on several other ministries, including the Defense Ministry for himself and the Education Ministry for his key ally MK Yuli Tamir. The decision outraged many Labor members, who called it a "betrayal of the voter's trust." "If he really wanted Finance he could have fought for it. We made a promise to our voters that we immediately reneged on just so our chairman could get a prestigious position," said one Labor MK. The emergence of the rebellion comes at a particularly bad time for Peretz, said officials close to the chairman. Rumors of tensions between Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have increased as the deadline for the 2006 budget looms. Labor Party support for the budget was a pillar of the coalition agreement. Peretz already showed inability to control his party, when two Labor MKs walked out of the first budgetary vote in protest, said Kadima officials. "Olmert is watching Peretz closely, and is very concerned that Labor might fall apart and no longer be a real coalition partner," said one Kadima official. The rebel Labor MKs have no plot to overthrow Peretz, insisted Avital, who added that the term "rebel" was not appropriate for the group. "Any time a group of MKs meet outside the party the press goes and calls it a "rebel" group," said Avital. "We don't want to work against the leader of the party. I won't lend a hand to people who want to push Amir [Peretz] away. We want to strengthen him by strengthening our party with the voters." Despite Avital's assurances, officials close to Peretz said that the chairman didn't trust the group and was keeping a close eye on their activities.