Lieberman Calls on Peretz to Quit Over Appointment of First Arab Minister

Labor MKs call for reconsidering party's participation in coalition in wake of 'racist comments.'

Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday called on Amir Peretz to resign the defense portfolio over his appointment of Israel's first Arab minister, saying Peretz was unfit to hold the post.

Lieberman said that Peretz had abused his role as defense minister, and used the apparatus of the state for his own ends in the Labor Party primaries, and as such was not worthy of holding the position.

Lieberman's comments followed condemnation of the appointment by the chairman of Knesset faction of his Yisrael Beiteinu party, MK Esterina Tartman, who lambasted the move as "a lethal blow to Zionism."

She told Israel Radio that Labor MK Raleb Majadele's appointment as minister of science and technology damages "Israel's character as a Jewish state."

"We need to destroy this affliction from within ourselves. God willing, God will come to our help," she said.

Tartman's remarks were widely condemned by lawmakers from across the political spectrum. Majadele later said that her comments did not merit a response.

Tartman also said Peretz only made Majadele minister because the MK is an Arab, and to strengthen Peretz's power within Labor.

"Peretz is making a sacrifice of Zionism," she said. "He has crossed all the red lines. Israel is a Jewish state and should be run according to Jewish principles."

Tartman insisted that she did not have anything personal against Majadele, but objected to his appointment in principle.

"This is assimilation," She said. "I call on the prime minister not to approve this appointment, not for personal reasons, but in order to protect the state of Israel's interest as a Jewish and Zionist state."

MK Michael Eitan (Likud) called for a Knesset debate on what he termed Tartman's racist comments.

He said that he "rejected with disgust Tartman's racist pronouncements. The Zionism of Herzl, Jabotinsky and Begin always advocated the integration of Arabs who are loyal to the state in all of its institutions on the basis of equality. Tartman's statements are such that no believer in equality and democracy can accept them being on the agenda."

Labor MKs, including Danny Yatom and Yoram Marciano, called for Peretz to convene party institutions to reconsider Labor's continued participation in the coalition following Tartman's remarks.

Yatom said her comments show that Peretz and the ministers erred in choosing Knesset seats over ideology.

Marciano, head of the Labor faction in the Knesset, called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to oust Yisrael Beiteinu from the coalition, and for Labor to reconsider whether it can "sit in the government with this racist party."

"These remarks are an insult to the Knesset, to democracy and to the state," MK Nadia Hilo (Labor) said. "If they are acceptable to Yisrael Beiteinu, then it should leave the government. Arab citizens did not receive citizenship through the grace of Yisrael Beiteinu."

Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin called on Labor to condition its participation in the government on the removal of Yisrael Beiteinu.

He added that the racist remarks that Tartman made, an issue which Yisrael Beiteinu should "confront internally," are extremely serious, and urged Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to check whether there is legal justification for opening a criminal investigation over the remarks.

MK Magali Wahaba (Kadima) said, " I regret that there are still people who instead of speaking of cooperation, continue to speak in a racist tone. Such people must be removed from our midst," he said.