Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz announced on Sunday that he planned to investigate whether Israeli Beiteinu MK Esterina Tartman broke the law when she made allegedly racist statements regarding the appointment of Arab MK Ghaleb Majadle as a minister. "We have to purge this terrible plague from our midst," Tartman said shortly after Labor Chairman Amir Peretz nominated Majadle to replace MK Ophir Paz-Pines as science, culture and sport minister earlier this month. "The State of Israel is a Jewish state, and it's supposed to by run according to Jewish values."
Editorial: Minister Majadle?
On Saturday night, Peretz angered Labor Party ministers by issuing an ultimatum to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying that if he did not bring Majadle's ministerial appointment to a cabinet vote next week, Peretz would convene the Labor central committee to vote on quitting the coalition.
After the central committee approved Majadle's appointment on Thursday, Peretz pledged to pass it in the cabinet on Sunday.
After consulting with Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano on Saturday night, Peretz decided to issue an ultimatum with a deadline of the following Sunday.
Sources close to Olmert said there was no chance that Majadle would be appointed before the January 31 ruling in former justice minister Haim Ramon's trial, three days after Peretz's deadline. Labor ministers said Peretz made a mockery of the party by issuing an ultimatum that would not be respected.
"Peretz has threatened too many times," a Labor minister told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night. "He can't make such a threat without consulting the ministers. It's not right that he has gone to the press and not to us. If he brings it to a vote in the central committee, I am not sure that even a single minister other than Peretz would support it."
A source close to another Labor minister said it was extremely unlikely that a "lame duck Labor chairman" could lead the party out of the coalition. He said that Peretz's "unstatesmanlike" behavior was hurting himself.
The Labor ministers except for Peretz have appointed former party functionaries and kibbutz movement leaders to serve as directors-general of their ministries. Labor's largest sector, the United Kibbutz Movement, would block any move to leave the coalition.
But Peretz is unpopular in the kibbutz sector, whose representative in the Labor faction, MK Orit Noked, endorsed former prime minister Ehud Barak's candidacy for the Labor leadership on Saturday night.
Labor officials speculated that Peretz's move was intended to preempt steps to oust him from the Defense Ministry by trying to remove all the Labor ministers from their cabinet seats along with him. They suggested Peretz was trying to ignite his reelection campaign by purposely losing the central committee vote on leaving the coalition, perhaps thinking that if he would not be defense minister, it might be better for him to reject attempts to create an expanded socioeconomic portfolio for him and instead run as a regular MK.
Peretz's spokesman rejected such speculation, saying that the defense minister was simply trying to ensure that the coalition agreement would be honored and to fight for the honor of Majadle, who endorsed the move.
"We didn't consider every possible outcome that could arise from the ultimatum," the spokesman said.
Marciano told Channel 1 last Sunday that Labor would quit the coalition if Majadle's appointment did not pass the cabinet within a week. He also issued an ultimatum in December that the party would leave the government if a social affairs minister was not appointed by January 1.
"I didn't set a deadline," Marciano said on Saturday night. "We will decide what to do in the faction on Monday. We can't put up with this anymore. Olmert said he would appoint Ghaleb and now he is just playing games."
Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon told Channel 2 on Saturday night that the prime minister wanted to appoint an IDF chief of General Staff before deciding what to do about vacancies in the cabinet.
In an interview with Israel Radio on Friday, Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman slammed Peretz for suggesting that the delay in Majadle's appointment was due to "Olmert giving into Lieberman's racism."
Lieberman said Peretz was fully aware that the cabinet vote had been delayed because Olmert wanted to reshuffle his cabinet after the January 31 verdict in Ramon's trial.
"The fact that Peretz is prepared to say that proves he is an idiot, and he doesn't understand anything about politics," Lieberman said.