TEL AVIV (Mar. 11)
The Herut convention voted 940-900 at dawn Tuesday to elect Moshe Katzav, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, to be chairman of its Presidium. The narrow vote represented an important victory for the supporters of Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who is opposed by David Levy and Ariel Sharon for the office of party chairman.
Eliahu Ben-Elissar, whom Katzav defeated, is a leading member of the Levy-Sharon camp. Katzav and Ben-Elissar demonstratively shook hands later Tuesday morning as Katzav assumed his duties. But the cordial gesture belied the bitter atmosphere that enshrouds the convention at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds.
VIOLENCE AT THE CONVENTION
It flared into violence Monday when Gaston Malka, an avid supporter of Minister of Commerce and Industry Sharon, attacked Deputy Foreign Minister Ronnie Milo, a Shamir man. Malka punched the slightly built Milo, knocking him from the podium and upsetting a bank of microphones and the table supporting them. Ushers wrestled Malka out of the hall.
Katzav’s first official act as Presidium chairman was to suspend Malka, a Petach Tikva delegate, from the convention. This was greeted by a strong round of applause from the nearly 2,000 delegates.
But tension prevailed as the agenda unwound toward other crucial votes. Levy, who is Minister of Housing and, like Shamir, a Deputy Premier, was chagrined by the election of Shamir’s supporter to preside over the convention. He vowed to fight on for the office of party chairman.
He and Sharon later spurned an offer by Shamir for the three to meet privately to resolve their differences, which Shamir characterized as personal and procedural rather than ideological. They had met before the festive opening of the convention in Jerusalem Sunday night but settled nothing. Shamir told reporters Tuesday he would not repeat his offer to his rivals.
ANOTHER MAJOR VOTE SCHEDULED
The next major vote, possibly Tuesday night, will be for chairman of the Mandates Committee which, among other things, rules on the eligibility of delegates and the validity of votes. Here Sharon is pitted directly against Binyamin Zeev Begin, son of former Premier Menachem Begin.
The younger Begin, like his father, who is still nominally Herut chairman but is not attending the convention, is staunchly in the Shamir camp. He was not active politically until some months ago when he registered as a convention delegate. According to informed sources, his purpose is to block Sharon’s bid for the Herut chairmanship. He told the convention Tuesday that he should not be denied the right to serve “just because my family name is Begin.”