Minister of Culture and Sport Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) resigned from the government yesterday, hours after the cabinet approved by a large majority the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman.
"I couldn't sit in a government with a minister who preaches racism," Pines-Paz wrote in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday. "The combination of loss of direction and adding Lieberman to the cabinet is dangerous and irresponsible."
Pines will be replaced in the cabinet by another Labor minister, and will start campaigning for his party's leadership.
The candidate seen as most likely to replace him is MK Matan Vilnay. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and MKs Avishai Braverman and Ami Ayalon were also mentioned yesterday as possible contenders against Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Amir Peretz for the party's leadership.
Pines-Paz yesterday challenged Peretz's leadership, saying that the chairman is no leader and must be replaced.
He said there was no other option left to him following the cabinet vote on Lieberman.
"I came to the decision for reasons of conscience," Pines said. "I could not sit in a government with a party whose platform is full of racist characteristics, and whose leaders' statements harm the essence of democracy in the State of Israel."
Pines-Paz, the only cabinet member to vote against the inclusion of Lieberman, had intended to announce his resignation at the cabinet meeting that ratified Lieberman's appointment.
But the session lasted only about three minutes, and Pines-Paz didn't have a chance to make a statement. He voted against the appointment and went to his office. Ministers including Vice Premier Shimon Peres (Kadima), Shalom Simhon, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, and Isaac Herzog (Labor) tried to persuade him not to quit. Peretz called to ask what he had decided, and the two had a terse argument.
"Since the second war in Lebanon the government has lost its way. It doesn't deal with convergence (from the West Bank) anymore, it doesn't deal with social problems, it doesn't promote a single important move, giving an impression of confusion and loss of credibility," he said.