Strife among Labor Party leaders took its latest turn yesterday as the party's chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, harshly criticized the labor federation chief and the minister of industry, trade and labor for declaring Wednesday that they no longer supported their leader.
"If we only knew how to conquer our urges and avoid the endless undermining of which Yitzhak Rabin was so critical," Barak said at a meeting of Labor Party leaders to mark 15 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin.
Earlier, in an interview on Israel Radio, Barak spoke much more harshly in response to the attack by the head of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini. Eini has been targeting Barak because of the illegal Filipina housemaid employed by his wife.
"Clearly the employment of the Filipina was a mistake, and my wife admitted the mistake 10 months ago," Barak said. "She asked to pay a fine .... I suppose that if Ofer's brother was found to be employing an [illegal] maid, it would have ended long before with a fine .... I imagine that if Nili Priell were not my wife, long before, right on the spot, as in 2,000 other cases a year, she would have paid a fine."
Barak's mention of Eini's brother was not coincidental. It was a message to the Histadrut leader that affairs involving his family could become a tool in the struggle, too.
Sources close to Barak hinted yesterday at what they said was Eini's hidden motive - his close relationship with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Tensions between Ashkenazi and Barak over the so-called Galant document as well as rumors that Ashkenazi could replace Barak as head of the Labor Party are said to have led to Eini's attack on Barak.
Labor Party sources also mentioned Chemi Peres, President Shimon Peres' son, as the next possible Labor chief.
Barak hid his fury over the call by the minister of industry, trade and labor, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, that Labor's next chairman come from outside the party. But yesterday Barak canceled a meeting with Ben-Eliezer to have been held this morning.
Ben-Eliezer said yesterday: "All those who see themselves hurt - each person should start thinking what I meant in my statement."
Labor "rebels" opposed to Barak said they believed they could get a close Barak ally, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, to join them because he too had lost confidence in Barak.
Meanwhile, the State Prosecutor's Office told the High Court of Justice in response to a petition by the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel that it had no evidence Barak had been involved in the illegal employment of a foreign worker. It said Barak would not be summoned for questioning in the matter.
Priell is expected to be summoned for a third round of questioning, after which Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to instruct the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to press charges against her.
Tomer Zarchin contributed to this report.
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