Yisrael Beitenu MK Esterina Tartman expressed on Thursday her opposition to Defense Minister Amir Peretz's appointment of Ghaleb Majadleh as the first Arab cabinet minister. "The destruction of the Jewish people will begin with this," she said. Tartman said that while she had no personal problem with Majadleh, an Arab holding a cabinet position would "bring down Zionism." "Israel is a Jewish state," Tartman declared. "It is supposed to be run as a Jewish state." Tartman's was not the only harsh criticism Peretz faced after his decision Wednesday to appoint Majadleh to replace MK Ophir-Paz-Pines as Science, Culture and Sport Minister. Peretz called the move a historic step to improve Arab-Jewish relations, promote equality and make up for the addition to the cabinet of Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who Peretz considers racist. Paz-Pines, who is running against Peretz, quit the cabinet two months ago to protest Lieberman's joining.
Barak declares Labor chair candidacy
But Peretz's detractors said the decision was a desperate attempt to save his struggling re-election campaign ahead of the May 28 Labor leadership race. Majadleh, who endorsed Shimon Peres in the last race, heads the party's Arab sector, Labor's second-largest.
"The dirty deal of Peretz and Majadleh is a new record in cynicism and insulting the intelligence of Israeli voters," Paz-Pines said. "It proves how low the party has fallen, that it has lost its path, and that it must go through a transformation or it will lose its right to exist and vanish from the political map. It's proper that Israel have an Arab minister but this appointment was made solely to aid Peretz's re-election campaign."
Paz-Pines pointed out that Majadleh was one of the leaders of the fight for Labor to quit the government rather than sit at a cabinet table with Lieberman.
"Lieberman wants a Jewish country with no Arabs so we cannot legitimize him by sitting with him," Majadleh said at the time.
But Majadleh, a former Histadrut official who lives in Baka al-Gharbiya, changed his tune on Wednesday when he met with Peretz and accepted the position.
"My appointment is an important precedent-setting step toward integrating the million Arabs in this country," Majadleh said. "Many have talked about equality but Amir Peretz is the first to really take a step to bring it about."
Israel had a Druse minister, Salah Tarif, who served as a minister-without-portfolio in former prime minister Ariel Sharon's government and an Arab deputy foreign minister in Nawaf Masalha, but Majadleh will become the first Arab and Muslim minister after he gets approved by the cabinet and the Knesset next week.
MK Nadia Hilu, who is an Arab Christian, was asked to replace Majadleh as the head of the Knesset's interior committee. Hilu called Majadleh's appointment "an important step on the path to coexistence." But when Lieberman was appointed, she said that if Labor remained in the government, it would "lose its spine and ideology."
Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh said the appointment had nothing to do with equality and called it "a stinking maneuver intended to save the miniscule chance of Peretz remaining Labor chairman."
The appointment makes it less likely that Labor will receive the Social Affairs portfolio. Channel 10 reported on Wednesday that in the past 48 hours, Peretz had said for the first time that he might have to give up the Defense portfolio in favor of a socioeconomic portfolio to counter former prime minister Ehud Barak's effort to focus the race on who was fitting to serve as defense minister. Peretz's spokesman denied the report.
Barak, who has not given any interviews to the Israeli press since last spring, will make his first speech since his comeback at a United Kibbutz Movement event on Sunday at Kibbutz Afikim in the Jordan Valley. Barak is also expected to campaign on Friday for Labor's candidate in the Givatayim mayoral race, Iris Avraham.
A Teleseker poll of Labor members published in Ma'ariv on Wednesday found that Barak had passed up MK Ami Ayalon for the lead in the race for the first time. Thirty percent said they supported Barak, followed by Ayalon (23%), Paz-Pines (18%), Peretz (12%) and MK Danny Yatom (2%).
Asked who was most fitting to serve as defense minister, 48% said Barak, 29% Ayalon, 8% Yatom and 4.8% Peretz. Forty-eight percent said Barak had changed for the better, 4% said he changed for the worse and 34% said he had not changed.
Ayalon said he did not take the poll seriously even when he led them. Barak's ally ,Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said, "the pattern has been going that way for a long time and Ami knows it."
Education Minister Yuli Tamir endorsed Peretz on Wednesday, joining Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano and MK Shelley Yacimovich in supporting him. Majadleh and Hilu are expected to follow suit.
"There are those who want to remove Peretz from Israeli politics, but the attacks against him are exaggerated and not appropriate," Tamir told Israel Radio. "Amir Peretz made mistakes, but we all make mistakes."
Former OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amiram Levine announced his support for Ayalon. Levine supported Israel Beiteinu in the election in March.
"It's clear that the current leadership is not getting the public backing, and what disturbs the citizens of Israel most is the shallowness, corruption, and greed that is prevalent in all those currently in power," Levine told Israel Radio. "Therefore it's important to support the entrance of modest people, such as Ami Ayalon, so as to improve Labor's chances of regaining control of the government."