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Ten percent of Meretz Convention members announced yesterday morning that they were joining the rival Labor Party.

The Meretz Convention, which chooses the left-wing party's Knesset list and determines party policy, is equivalent to the central committee of registered members maintained by other political parties.

The 100 of the 1,000 registered Meretz members including administrative figures, branch directors and secretariats informed journalists of their move to Labor in a morning news conference.

"Meretz headed by [Chairman Yossi] Beilin is not the same Meretz as that of [former party leader] Yossi Sarid," said Smadar Aharoni, a member of the Nes Tziona council and a Meretz member up until Tuesday.

"Meretz has been neglecting social issues as of late and has been dealing only with the Geneva Initiative," Aharoni said.

Itai Pinkas, a Meretz member of the Tel Aviv city council and chairman of the gay and lesbian association, said: "We are joining the Labor Party because of its social agenda.

Labor's advancements in social and educational issues have proven that this is our natural place. Meretz is talking only about the Geneva Initiative.?

Pinkas also criticized the racism from Meretz figures absorbed by Moroccan-born Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz. "It infuriates me. The racism alone was sufficient reason to move" to Labor.

Pinkas further said the homosexual community is liable to make more significant gains in securing rights if it acts from within a party that is part of the government rather than the opposition.

Senior Labor figure MK Yuli Tamir promised to take it upon herself to fight for the rights of Israel's homosexual community a campaign traditionally associated with Meretz.

In response to the mass defection of its members, Meretz said it "hopes the Labor Party understands that the strength of the left wing will not be strengthened as a result of several Meretz members moving over. It is both surprising and strange that while Labor is appealing to the Central Elections Committee on the departures of former party chairman Shimon Peres and other senior MKs, and has been forced to deal with the departure of dozens of mayors, it chooses to hold a news conference to announce the departure of a number of Meretz members."