After attracting 19 MKs to his new Kadima party
, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shifted his attention on Tuesday to seeking support from mayors from across the country.
Seventy-two mayors affiliated with Likud, Labor, the National Union
, Arab, Druse and Bedouin parties attended a festive dinner at Sharon's official residence in Jerusalem. Sharon asked the mayors for support in building Kadima into a permanent fixture on the Israeli political scene.
"The fact that you came is proof that that the steps we have taken have unprecedented public support from the entire country," Sharon told the mayors. "You have helped me over the years with many challenges. You know more than anyone how difficult it is to make fateful decisions. Together, with our combined leadership, we can move Israel forward (Kadima in Hebrew)."
Sharon's associates said the success of the event strengthened Kadima's hand and showed that the party had the momentum to keep gaining support.
Several mayors have already joined the party, including Shmuel Riffman of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council (formerly Labor), Menachem Ariav of Nazareth Ilit
(Labor) and Zvi Bar of Ramat Gan (Likud). Rishon Lezion
mayor Meir Nitzan
announced in the meeting in dramatic fashion that he was joining Kadima and returning to Labor a membership card that he received from David Ben-Gurion
55 years ago.
"I decided to shift to Kadima after 55 years in Mapai, because someone took over the house and threw out the landlords," Nitzan said, criticizing Labor chairman Amir Peretz. "Peretz doesn't realize that running the country requires experience and experienced people. Peres, Ramon and Itzik and more are on the way out, so I wanted to leave before they threw me out too. The party has been left empty and full of strangers."
Kiriat Shmona mayor Haim Barbivai said he was threatened not to attend the meeting.
Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) said that Sharon was unfairly taking advantage of the Prime Minister's Office to advance his political party.