Olmert lashes out, threatens to fire Barak

Flare-up follows report that Labor would dump Justice Minister Friedmann in new government.

olmert barak 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert barak 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In what may be one of his last opportunities to flex his political muscles, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lashed out at his defense minister, Labor chairman Ehud Barak, on Monday and threatened to fire him. Olmert is expected to become a political lame duck in two weeks, after the mid-August deadline to join the Kadima leadership race passes. Until then, he intends to make it clear to his coalition partners that he is still in charge. The reason for the latest flare-up between Olmert and Barak was a report in Sunday's Haaretz newspaper in which Labor sources said that if a new Kadima-led government was formed following Olmert's departure, the party would demand that it be given the Justice portfolio in place of current minister Daniel Friedmann. "I am the head of Kadima, and if someone thinks he can force us to fire someone, they are wrong," Olmert told the Kadima faction. "If I had to choose between Barak and Friedmann, I would choose Friedmann, so don't try to threaten us. We respect our partnership with Labor, but Labor isn't acting as a proper coalition partner." Olmert also threatened Kadima ministers' jobs if they vote against coalition-supported legislation, and to sanction rebellious MKs if they did the same. Labor has led a campaign calling for Friedmann's firing in an effort to position itself as the party that defends the rule of law. The party is strongly opposed to Friedmann's proposal to split the job of attorney-general. "It is hard to take seriously a threat from a prime minister who already has one foot in his political grave," a Labor source said. "We will wait patiently to send our condolences until he is gone." A spokesman for Barak who is travelling with him in Washington declined to respond to Olmert's attack. Barak's candidate for justice minister if Labor were to receive the portfolio under a new Kadima leader would be Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who has been a fierce Friedmann critic.