Spin doctors take over Labor race

The spin doctors of former prime minister Ehud Barak, MK Ami Ayalon and Defense Minister Amir Peretz faced off on Wednesday in an attempt to sell stories that would embarrass their candidates' rivals ahead of the June 12 runoff race for the Labor Party leadership. The Hebrew press reported several headlines on Wednesday that were immediately denied, disproved and denounced as political spin. Barak's campaign denied reports that he engaged in a shouting match on Wednesday with his top political ally, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. Labor sources had said Ben-Eliezer threatened Barak that he would prevent him from winning the run-off if Barak reached a deal with Peretz that could threaten Ben-Eliezer's standing. The Ayalon and Peretz campaigns denied reports that Ayalon met with Peretz ahead of Monday's first round of voting and reached a deal that Peretz would back Ayalon in the runoff. They denied that a deal had already been worked out between the two, that Wednesday's Ayalon-Peretz meeting was "just for show" and that Ayalon would be the guest of honor at a rally of the Peretz camp on Sunday. Peretz and Ayalon met for nearly two hours at the Defense Ministry on Wednesday and both campaigns insisted afterward that they discussed "long-term cooperation and their visions for rehabilitating the party and the country." The campaigns said they did not speak about the possibility of Peretz endorsing Ayalon. The two men will reportedly meet again on Thursday morning and both campaigns denied knowledge of the meeting. Ayalon is set to meet Thursday with the fourth-place finisher in the race, MK Ophir Paz-Pines, and eventually with MK Danny Yatom, who finished last. Paz-Pines denied reports that he had already decided to support Ayalon. He said he was still undecided and would only announce whom he will endorse next week. Barak convened several of his top supporters in a Tel Aviv coffeehouse on Wednesday. His campaign said the meeting lasted a few minutes and nothing was decided. But participants said that over the course of an hour, Barak and his confidants decided to try to take away votes from Ayalon and Paz-Pines instead of focusing on Peretz. Many Peretz field activists received calls from Barak backers on Wednesday asking them to support him and to persuade Peretz to do the same. Peretz's campaign manager, MK Yoram Marciano, said he received many calls from Barak supporters asking for him to set up a meeting between Barak and Peretz. But Barak's closest confidant, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, said there would be no such meeting. He accused Peretz of engaging in "the lowest possible political horse-trading" and "waiting for a call from Barak that won't come, because he wants to raise Ayalon's price." The Barak campaign released an official statement Wednesday accusing Peretz of engaging in "wheeling and dealing." Barak's supporters in the coffeehouse cautioned him against criticizing Peretz too harshly, offending Peretz's supporters and unite them against him. Peretz's campaign denied reports that activists in the Peretz camp were "boiling mad" over Barak purportedly showing Peretz disrespect. Peretz's spokesman said Barak was "not engaged in a stinking maneuver," but simply trying to out-negotiate Peretz and receive his support. A Teleseker poll in Ma'ariv found both Ayalon and Barak would receive more votes without Peretz's backing. According to the poll, an endorsement from Peretz would cause Ayalon to lose four percent of his support and Barak three percent. A Dahaf Institute poll in Yediot Aharonot predicted the opposite. The poll found that if Peretz endorsed Ayalon 75% of Peretz supporters would follow and if he backed Barak, 62% would go with him. But the poll also presented bad news for Ayalon. It found that among all Labor members, Ayalon's lead over Barak had fallen from 10% to just 2% and they are now running neck-and-neck.