Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog yesterday announced his intention to run for the leadership of the Labor Party.

"I intend to fight for our home and for it's renewal, and I intend to contest the leadership of the party through democratic means," he said.

Herzog's announcement is the opening shot in an attempt by Labor's senior ministers to eject the party's current leader, Ehud Barak. But the primary itself is not expected to take place for another year.

"Many come to me and ask if this party can ever rise again," Herzog said yesterday. "They tell me, like they tell many of you throughout this country, 'Why does anyone needs this party? Does it still have a place in Israeli politics? This house is ruined, it's finished, it's broken. It won't rise again. Let this party die. Why would you want to lead it? Let it disappear, go some other way. Let's build something else, better. Let's merge, let's split. Bring us a rescue capsule like in Chile.'

"And I say, why? This is our home. It's a good home. It's a home I want to be in. I believe in it and in its values. This is the home that built the state, and it's undergoing the worst crisis in its history - to be or not to be. But this is precisely why I intend to fight for its salvation, to fight for its renewal," the minister said.

Also yesterday, the party's bureau elected Hilik Bar, 35, as secretary general. Bar will replace Weizman Shiri, a key Barak ally, who was appointed the party's director general and had in any case promised to serve only a limited period of time.

Bar, a Jerusalem city councilman who holds the municipality's tourism and foreign relations portfolios, is considered an ally of Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ).

"My election was a rare display of unity among ministers and other party members who decided to support a young secretary general," Bar said yesterday. "For over 20 years, the Labor Party has not known how to support its younger generation. My election is thus an important message for the party's young people and for young people nationwide."