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The Histadrut labor federation recently approved its farewell for outgoing chair Amir Peretz, with festivities scheduled for January 1 and 2, smack dab in the middle of the election campaign.

The revelry is expected to cost NIS 500,000, with indirect costs like transit for attendees from across the country tacking another NIS 500,000 on to the bill.

The Histadrut has a NIS 1.2 billion deficit, and officials have invested great efforts in the past two years to balance the operating budget, including by delaying wage hikes for staffers.

On Sunday, the Histadrut leadership is slated to discuss the 2006 budget. Peretz enjoys total support within the labor organization, so no senior officials are expected to oppose the events.

The first day of the festivities will consist of separate meetings with various unions at the Histadrut's Beit Vaad Hapoel. On the second day, a huge, rainproof tent will be pitched on the building's lawn, and events will include speeches, singers, dancers and food. The organization's staffers and members will be instructed not to miss the event.

In order to hold the celebration, a special committee headed by Histadrut international division head Sammy Ben Ya'ish was established, including five senior Histadrut officials. The women's organization Naamat will assist in organizing events.

A special memorandum sent yesterday to Histadrut staffers and the heads of the trade unions by trade union deputy division chief Meir Albaz informs workers that Peretz will be given a parting gift - an album with pictures and descriptions summing up his work in the decade he served as Histadrut chair.

"We ask you to send a greeting of up to one page to MK Amir Peretz. If you have a photo with him at any event, we would be pleased to receive it and include it in the album," Albaz said.

Ben Ya'ish said "the party is not only for Peretz, but also to celebrate 85 years since the union was founded, and Ofer Eini's taking over at the helm. Peretz saved the Histadrut from collapse and deserves a nice farewell. It is nice when there is a warm family, even if the family is in financial straits. When we gave Shimon Peres an 80th birthday party at the Mann Auditorium, no one opened their mouth. Now Peretz's political rivals are complaining. What did they think? We would have four falafels?"

The Histadrut spokesman responded: "The sums mentioned are incorrect. This is the changing of the Histadrut guard. In order to save, the event will be held at Histadrut facilities, saving the cost of a banquet hall."

Peretz responded: "It is not respectable for a journalist to deal with these things. It is not an unusual event. Speak to the Histadrut director general, who decided on the content of the event."