JERUSALEM (Apr. 26)
With Israel’s elections less than three months away, the internal stresses and strains that have been long building up within the contending parties are beginning to emerge.
The most visible fissures are in Likud and its coalition partners where some political seismologists predict a splintering of old alliances before the July 23 election date. The opposition Labor Alignment seems relatively quiet but it remains to be seen whether its leadership troika — Shimon Peres, former Premier Yitzhak Rabin and former President Yitzhak Navon — will succeed in bringing a united party to the polls.
The big news this week was the bruising battle within the Liberal Party’s Central Committee which selected Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai to head its election slate and Justice Minister Moshe Nissim for the No. 2 spot.
Knesset Speaker Menachem Savidor garnered only seven votes out of 240 in his abortive bid for party leadership and went on to be eliminated entirely from the Liberal slate of 16 assured seats. He will not serve in the next Knesset.
OF ‘DEALS’ AND ‘PLOTS’
Nissim, who had hoped to head the Liberals, took his 126-89 vote loss to Modai philosophically. The vote, he said, was “significant” and placed Modai at the “head of the Liberal Knesset faction.” But Nissim failed to acknowledge Modai as leader of the party, nor did Minister of Commerce and Industry Gideon Patt, a long-time rival of Modai who was not himself a contender.
Savidor, who suffered not only defeat but indignity, was angry. He spoke bitterly today of “deals” and “plots”, claiming that 34 committee members had “assured” him privately of their votes before the balloting began. He said he would consider joining another party.
Two other Liberal MKs dropped from the slate are Dror Zeigerman, a maverick who frequently voted with the opposition or abstained in crucial issues and Zvi Renner, “boss” of the Liberal’s workers’ faction.
Three newcomers who made the “safe sixteen” are Uriel Linn, recently retired director general of the Energy Ministry; Naftali Nir; and Moshe Meron, the latter a member of the ninth Knesset.
A strong, negative reaction to the outcome of the Central Committee’s balloting came today from Mayor Shlomo Lehat of Tel Aviv, one of the country’s best known and most popular Liberals. Lehat, who is not running for election to the Knesset, characterized his party’s Central Committee as “a bunch of swindlers.” He told the newspaper Davar he was referring to the myriad of “deals” and “double-deals” made prior to the voting.
Lehat urged his party to break its 20-year alliance with Herut and stand for election on its own. Even if it wins only 3-4 Knesset mandates this time, the move could mark the beginning of a true centrist-liberal party in Israel, he said.
But Liberal activists are in no mood to accept Lehat’s exhortations to self-sacrifice at the polls. They are, however, locked in a potentially divisive quarrel with their Herut partners who recently decided to “review” the 20-year-old Herut-Liberal agreements. The review has been assigned to Deputy Premier David Levy who is to make recommendations with respect to the allocation of Knesset seats within Likud.
It is the contention of many in Herut that the Liberals who hold 18 mandates in the present Knesset — to 26 for Herut — are over-represented in proportion to their electoral strength. The Liberals have threatened to break their alliance with Herut if the status quo is tampered with before the elections, Modai reaffirmed today the Liberal Central Committee’s refusal to negotiate any changes with Herut.
DISSENSION IN THE NRP
The National Religious Party, which has been a coalition partner in virtually every government — Labor and Likud — since the State was founded, is also in the throes of internal dissension. Decimated at the polls in the 1981 elections when its Knesset representation was reduced from 12 to six, the NRP now faces a real possibility of dissolution.
Former Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir, who, with Education Minister Zevulun Hammer led the NRP’s Young Guard faction, announced today that he will not run for re-election to the Knesset on the NRP ticket. He is trying to persuade Hammer to break with the party and run on a new list.
At the root of the NRP’s current troubles is the election slate proposed by Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapiro to bring unity to the divided party and recoup its 1981 losses. Shapiro’s list would be headed by Interior Minister Yosef Burg, a veteran party leader now in his seventies who is expected to retire soon after the elections.
The No. 2 spot would go to Rabbi Haim Druckman, a rightwing militant who defected from the NRP last year to set up his own Matzad Party. Should the moderate Burg retire, the NRP would be headed by a politician considered by many to hold extreme hardline views.
INTERNAL DISPUTE IN AGUDA
The other religious party in the Likud-led coalition, the Aguda Israel, is also locked in internal dispute. The party is governed by its “Council of Sages.” A meeting of the Council today reportedly broke up in disarray, with its aged chairman, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, the Rebbe of Gur, saying he “can’t go on any longer.”
Alter is pressing for implementation of the principle of rotation in the Aguda Knesset faction. He would have its two veteran MKs, Shlomo Lorincz and Menachem Porush, step down to make room for new blood. Both men have served several terms and are loath to retire. They are supported by other members of the Council and by the deans of leading yeshivas.
BATTLE IN TEHIYA-TSOMET COALITION
On the far right, there is a battle for third place on the joint Tehiya-Tsomet election list. Tsomet is a new party founded by former Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan. Eitan was given the No. 2 spot after Tehiya leader Yuval Neeman, who is Minister of Science in the present government. That was a bitter pill for MK Geula Cohen, one of Tehiya’s founders.
She swallowed it, but is now engaged in a battle for third place with Benny Katzover, leader of the West Bank settlers, who is the choice of the party’s Orthodox wing.
Meanwhile, a majority of the Labor Party’s Central Committee voted last Sunday to preserve the present procedure for selecting Knesset candidates. Under this system, half of the candidates are selected by the party’s various regional, moshav, kibbutz and other constituencies and half are nominated by a “selection committee” composed of the party leadership.
Labor’s “Young Guard” faction had been pressing for greater “democratization” by allowing the Central Committee to select some of the candidates. They were powerfully opposed by the kibbutz faction and supporters of Rabin.