The Herut Party Convention Self-destructs in Pandemonium and Violence; No New Chairman Named

The 15th Herut convention did not adjourn. It disintegrated before dawn Thursday in deadlock, pandemonium and violence without naming a new party chairman.

That failure itself was tantamount to rejection of the leadership of Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and put in doubt his ability to govern when Laborite Shimon Peres hands over the office of Premier next October under the Labor-Likud unity coalition agreement.

The convention was deeply riven by bitter factional and personal feuding from the moment it convened Monday morning in a hall on the Tel Aviv fair-grounds following a festive opening in Jerusalem Sunday night.

During the four days that followed, Shamir and his close associate Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens, were fiercely opposed by an alliance of supporters of Ariel Sharon, Minister of Commerce and Industry, and David Levy, Minister of Housing. The Moroccan-born Levy, in particular, commanded enthusiastic support from the rank-and-file delegates, mainly Sephardic Jews from depressed urban areas and development towns.

SHAMIR TOLD TO GET OUT

There were fisticuffs on the opening day and defamatory rhetoric by both sides. But nothing compared to the blows and curses exchanged early Thursday as the convention simply self-destructed. The 2,000 delegates left in anger without a modicum of unity or good-will to show for their labors. Shamir had to be escorted out of the hall by security guards as young Sephardic delegates, apparently supporters of Levy, taunted him with chants, “Go home, old man.”

Later Thursday there were tentative contacts involving Herut Secretariat chairman Yoram Aridor in an effort to mediate between the rival camps. Herut circles hoped the convention could be reconvened in a week or two, after passions have calmed, to complete its work.

The four leading figures–Shamir, Arens, Levy and Sharon — each addressed the stormy plenary Wednesday night. They barred no holds in denouncing each other and defending their own camps. If anything, their speeches only deepened the divisions within the party.

On the podium, and in live television interviews later, Shamir and Levy continued to ventilate the profound mistrust each holds for the other. Shamir backed off somewhat from his denunciation of his rivals Wednesday morning as “a gang of criminals” trying to “hijack our movement by force.” But he made clear to the delegates and the viewing public his opinion that Levy and Sharon lacked the “honesty, decency, loyalty and high standards” which he wants passed on to the next generation of Herut.

In a pre-dawn press conference, Shamir accused Sharon of lying during behind-the-scenes efforts to reach an agreement that might have salvaged the convention. Levy, for his part, repeated his charge that Shamir was bending the democratic process in order to ignore what Levy maintained is the plain fact that his rivals had amassed a majority within the party at the grass-roots level and at the convention.

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