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Reported Remark by Peres Draws Fire

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Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is under attack for disparaging remarks he allegedly made last week about religious settlers. The Labor Party leader has flatly denied the comments attributed to him Friday in report in the daily newspaper Haaretz.

But right-wing politicians are demanding that Peres be disciplined. Haim Kaufman, chairman of the Likud Knesset faction, called on the Labor Party to remove Peres as its leader and candidate for the office of prime minister in the next elections.

Even Laborites are criticizing the foreign minister. According to Haaretz, Peres described West Bank settlers as a group of “skullcap-wearers with beards and guns whose appearance arouses ridicule.” He allegedly made that comment to a group of business and organization leaders in Herzliya.

He was also quoted as having said that a victory for Likud in the next elections would lead to the formation of a Khomeini-type regime in Israel. He was referring to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s theocratic government in Iran.

Peres angrily denied the Haaretz report when he addressed high school students in Jerusalem on Friday. He said it was “scandalous” that a rival political party would spread false rumors.

Kaufman, who belongs to Likud’s Herut wing, said he checked out the Haaretz report with several people who were at the Herzliya meeting and found Peres had said even more derogatory things about religious settlers than were attributed to him.

Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, a Labor member of the Knesset, said the party leader’s remarks were “most unfortunate.”

Peres reportedly told the students that the recent victory of right-wing elements in the National Religious Party’s internal elections was simply a progression of the NRP toward extremism, which began when it legitimized the Gush Emunim settlers in the West Bank.

The NRP had been the most moderate of the Orthodox political factions. Its lurch to the right has triggered rumors that a new dovish religious party is about to be launched.

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