Amir Peretz, why did you go to London despite the risk of arrest?

Labor MK Amir Peretz returned from a trip to London he made despite being warned that an arrest warrant had been issued for him, and had to cancel a lecture he was scheduled to give.

Amir Peretz, why did you go to London despite the warnings?

“I heard the warning while I was in New York en route to London. Israeli officials asked me not to travel to England at all, and I said I wouldn’t accept doors being closed to someone like myself, a peace-seeker, who doesn’t want Israel to be viewed from this perspective. I too, as a peace advocate, think these radical organizations that are waging this campaign in the courts are as far as I am concerned waging an inappropriate campaign. For me, they are just like the other extremists who in the end prevent others from the possibility of reaching regional agreements and I said that I would not grant legitimacy to this campaign. On the other hand, I wasn’t willing to allow provocations to take place because of me. Apparently all the efforts to issue warrants while I was still in England were unsuccessful, but I also think the English government needs to accelerate a change in the law: It seems totally illogical to me that a country like England wouldn’t allow persons and parties that want to express their positions to do so. It is inconceivable that all of British public opinion will be expressed only as a reaction to Israel’s official policy, and I certainly have no intention of accepting such a situation.

What about your risk of arrest?

I think that the risk is a calculated risk. I was in constant coordination with judicial authorities. I didn’t want this to get out at all, because the very fact of this discussion is some sort of victor for those extremists but it did get out, apparently through persons outside of Israel, and I am trying very hard not elaborate on the matter. I have quite a lot to say on the matter, however, and I will discuss the matter with official figures. This time I acted as a single individual, but perhaps it could be turned into a platform of sorts that could be used to help other Israelis who are worried about going to England.”

Meanwhile, back here, Yedioth Ahronoth, is quoting specific individuals from your Labor Party recruitment campaign as saying, “If you didn’t pay the membership fee, you’re not a member.”

We saw those quotes. Undoubtedly something very tendentious happened because everyone realizes it refers to a handful out of hundreds of telephone calls, because obviously when hundreds of people in Netivot said they planned to support Labor for the Knesset they of course see me as the candidate. And this is the most serious thing they did from a journalistic perspective, that they stressed that in the last Knesset election a total of 174 people in Netivot voted for the Labor Party, while nearly 600 registered as party members. They just forgot to say that in 2006, when I was the Labor Party chairman, around 1,000 people in Netivot voted for Labor. We achieved better results than the National Union and Likud, we were the second party after Shas. The other thing is the attempt to sign up both [people in] development towns and Haredim.”

But 2006 was before your image suffered a very harsh blow on account of the Second Lebanon War and the Olmert government.

“When I began my last campaign I was sure it would be much harder. I was sure I would encounter anger and so on, and it turns out that people identified with me! That people were telling me, listen, we know there was a whole group that had an interest in getting you off center stage because it was convenient for them, and people who spoke in terms of deep, personal pain! And they say we waited for this moment so we come back and rally around you. And you cannot imagine how many Likud people today call and say that as soon as I’m elected [Labor Party chairman] they plan to leave Likud and join Labor! Shlomo Bardugo, the brother of Yaakov Bardugo − the former director of the Mifal Hapayis national lottery, a Likud leader from Ramle-Lod − he even gave me permission to mention his name. I told him, so why are you waiting for the primaries to be over, join now! He said no, Labor doesn’t know how to open doors, how to embrace people. I know that if you’re elected we’ll feel like we’re at home. It’s true!”

The polls do not point to masses voting for a Labor Party led by you.
“I’m happy to be the Israeli politician who loses the polls and wins the election, there are others who enjoy winning the polls and losing the election. I think I proved that in the primary against [Shimon] Peres and also in the 2006 election. Then, too, very poor results were predicted for me and in the end I received almost 20 Knesset seats, I was short just a handful of votes for the 20th seat − from the toughest places, where the Labor Party had never won. These are amazing results! I am looking at the results table.”

You are glorying in something from five years ago.

“The results will be bigger this time. I’m telling you, there’s never been such an atmosphere, people tell me, if you’re elected we will be there. We started the revolution, we haven’t managed to complete it, and we want to finish it now with you. And I know there are enough wealthy people in this country, who own a large share of the Israeli economy, who will do anything to keep me from being elected! I heard this from Ehud Olmert six months ago, who told me his real reasons for not giving me the finance portfolio. The official argument was that the prime minister could not appoint a finance minister from outside his party, but I’m telling you that all the business leaders were streaming in to see me, all the families that run the economy, all those tycoons who told me that Amir Peretz will not be finance minister. Period.”

Olmert admitted to you that he caved in to the tycoons’ pressure?

“I don’t know about caving in to pressure, I’m telling you what he told me about what took place in his house and what the mood was like and the amount of pressure placed on him to ensure that under no circumstances would the finance portfolio go to me. You can call him and ask him to confirm this.”

So you think these are the people who are now behind the media attacks you call unfair?

“I hope not, but let’s just say that their spirit is hovering overhead.”