Sources in the Kadima Party voiced rage on Friday over comments by Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier in the day, who said "we will force Kadima to straighten its moral spine."
Barak made the comments to some 200 Labor members gathered for a session on Friday against the backdrop of a corruption investigation currently underway against Prime Minister and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert.
Kadima's MK Yoel Hasson, the alternate coalition leader, said in response to the remarks "the last person who should preach on integrity, public morality and leadership is Ehud Barak," referring to corruption allegations waged against Barak in the past.
According to Hasson, "One can't take the moral high road with talk of values and norms while simultaneously clinging to his seat and continuing to be a part of Olmert's coalition."
"A crooked arrow can't straighten a straight arrow. Barak best gain control over his own party before he serves as a moral guide," Hasson added.
MK Yitzhak Ben-Israel added to Hasson's outrage, saying "Kadima doesn't need to be goaded by someone who was under criminal investigation himself in the past, and only barely escaped charges in an illegal fundraising affair."
During the Labor Party session Friday morning, Barak said "if Kadima's moral spine continues to fold in the face of authority or interest, we will force it to straighten."
"The time has come for deep, ethical and moral improvement in society," he added.
During the session, Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer declared, "Starting today we are preparing for elections. We have no money, we have problems in our branches, but one thing cannot be taken from us - our soul and our energy."
"We must prepare for elections and win. I know the people here, as well as thousands in the street, and we are going to do it big," he said. "The problem with the prime minister is public and not legal. I want a prime minister with 100 percent attention on political and defense problems, not one who is busy with personal issues."
Kadima plan to meet next week to set ballot for party primaries
Meanwhile, leaders of the governing Kadima party plan to meet in as little as a week to decide on an internal ballot that could replace Olmert, senior faction members said on Friday.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Kadima's central committee, told Israel Radio on Friday that Kadima delegates would convene a meeting on a leadership ballot after Olmert returns from a visit to the United States at the end of next week.
Kadima sources said Olmert wants his centrist party to put off any such vote for months, hoping to ride out the police investigation into allegations he accepted envelopes filled with cash from a Jewish-American businessman.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz on Thursday accused Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of conspiring with Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to break up Kadima, after Livni said that Kadima must prepare for elections.
"This deal among Barak, [political consultant] Reuven Adler and Livni to break Kadima up won't work. Only Kadima people will determine its fate," said Mofaz, who intends to contend for Kadima's leadership.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter also announced his intention to run for the party's leadership, and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit is expected to join the fray as well.
Earlier Thursday, Livni had made a long-awaited statement on the corruption charges facing Olmert: She called on Kadima to prepare for elections and declared her support for party primaries.
"Kadima needs to start preparing for every eventuality, including elections," she said at a meeting with journalists in Jerusalem.
Livni denied any connection to Barak and Adler, either direct or indirect.
Regarding Barak's call on Wednesday for Olmert to step aside, which he made after Jewish American businessman Morris Talansky testified about the hundreds of thousands of dollars he allegedly transferred to the prime minister, Livni said: "Reality changed after yesterday. Kadima needs to make decisions on what it will do. We cannot ignore the events of the last few days."
Regarding claims that Olmert's actions may have been fishy but not illegal, the foreign minister said: "The issue isn't only legal, and the test of what is criminal and what isn't is not only the prime minister's personal business. It is related to values and norms and their influence on the public's trust. The claim that these are norms that everyone who enters politics needs to adopt infuriates me. It's not true and not acceptable to me. I object to the attempt to impose improper norms on politics."
Livni, who is considered a front-runner to head Kadima should Olmert step down, also called for party primaries.
In response, Olmert's associates lashed out at Livni. "She proved she is letting Ehud Barak determine Kadima's moves," said one.
Mofaz's associates, for their part, termed Livni hypocritical for preaching about values and norms. "Political standards are measured in deeds, not talk, and this deal [with Barak] is not a worthy political act," said one.
Opinion polls show Livni to be the public's favorite Kadima politician, but she faces stiff competition within the party.
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