TEL AVIV (Nov. 24)
About 260,000 eligible Labor Party members will go to the polls all over Israel tomorrow to select the 2701 delegates to the party’s national convention early next year. The election has generated almost as much suspense and excitement as a national election because of the intense rivalry between party chairman Shimon Peres and former Premier Yitzhak Rabin for leadership.
The convention will decide which of the two men will head Labor’s list in next year’s Knesset elections. It current polls giving Labor a strong edge over Likud are correct, the winner of tomorrow’s contest is very likely to become Israel’s next Prime Minister.
Peres and Rabin have been campaigning furiously as have their respective supporters. Peres is believed to have an advantage within the party’s institutions but Rabin is believed to be the favorite among the rank and file. Special election headquarters have been established in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Beersheba and other large cities.
ALLEGATION CAUSES TENSION
Tension was heightened over the weekend by an unsigned report in the French weekly L’Express alleging an association between Rabin and one of Israel’s top underworld figures, Bezalel Mizrahi. According to the allegation, Mizrahi paid the $37,400 fine levied against Mrs. Rabin in 1977 for maintaining a bank account in the U.S. in violation of Israel’s currency regulations. According to L’Express, Mizrahi’s check is in Peres’ possession.
The report backfired against Peres who was accused in some quarters of inspiring the anonymous allegation to discredit his rival on the eve of the party elections. Peres himself denounced the report as calumny. But he was reluctant to provide a written statement that it was untrue and that he had nothing to do with it. Later, Peres said he was willing to provide Rabin with an affidavit if he needed it for a libel action against L’Express.
Rabin said he wanted the statement not for legal reasons but to “purify the atmosphere” within the party. Peres said he would give it if Rabin asked him “nicely.” But Rabin demanded a sworn affidavit to be prepared by himself, that Peres had no check from Mizrahi. He said such a document would be an important component of his suit against L’Express.
The matter stood at an impasse during the day as party officials attempted to ease tensions to ensure that tomorrow’s balloting will be conducted in an orderly manner.