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Potential prime minister Pines-Paz seeks to change Israels political culture
December 15th, 2006
Knesset Member Ophir Pines-Paz of the Labor Party recently did something almost unheard of in Israeli politics. In October, he resigned from a Cabinet position on a matter of principle.
The former minister of science, culture and sports couldnt abide the presence in Prime Minister Ehud Olmerts government of Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) Party, who was given the post of minister for strategic affairs.
Lieberman is a Russian immigrant, a West Bank settler and a politician of the far right. He advocates killing members of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, reducing the number of Israeli Arabs, and placing Jews and Arabs in separate, homogeneous states, according to the Dec. 7 New York Times.
We have nothing in common with him, Pines-Paz, 46, explained to The Chronicle during a visit to Milwaukee last week. In the last election, Israelis chose a center-left government, but Olmert, in violation of that choice, brought in this man from a far right wing party who brings an approach we shouldnt legitimize.
Moreover, his appointment communicates the message that the center-left has no answers, which is unbearable and will cost a lot in the future, he said.
By resigning from the Cabinet, however, Pines-Paz may be taking a big risk with his political career. As Ari Shavit of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said to him during an interview published Nov. 10:
[Y]ou did something foolish. Anyone who resigns from the government is out of the game, becomes irrelevant. Another month or two and you will be forgotten.
Pines-Paz not only does not think so, but is running to be head of the Labor Party against incumbent Amir Peretz. And if he wins that, he could end up one of Israels next prime ministers.
In fact, Milwaukee last week was one of his stops on a U.S. speaking tour hosted by Ameinu (formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance), in which he sought both to discuss current Middle East events and to raise funds for his run to be head of the party. (Contributions for running in an Israeli general election may only be made by Israeli citizens.)
Needs a constitution
Moreover, Pines-Paz hopes his gesture will be an opening shot in a campaign to change the political culture in Israel.
That fellow Labor Party members would stay in the government with Lieberman is a symptom of the problem, showing that they are unwilling to pay a price for what we stand for, he said. I think that represents lack of leadership.
Moreover, good people do not want to go into politics in Israel, he said. The result is that bad people get in and end up with the kinds of scandals that have surfaced recently, including allegations of financial impropriety and sexual harassment and abuse.
Pines-Paz believes I have a lot to offer to his party and country. I have proven that I can be trusted. I am popular. I can bring a new generation to the Labor Party and can help the party regain the trust of the people.
He also has had lots of political experience. He has been deputy director-general of the Immigration and Absorption Department of the Jewish Agency for Israel, served as minister of the interior and as secretary general of the Labor Party.
Perhaps most significant is that in the 15th Knesset he chaired the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. He is emphatic that Israel must have a constitution, a project that has been continually postponed since the state was founded in 1948.
A constitution sets the rules of game in Israeli politics, and the lack of one has harmed us in many ways, Pines-Paz said.
When it comes to foreign and defense policies, Pines-Paz believes Israel has to go back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
He said that Olmerts government has wasted at least two years in not carrying out meaningful negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That is a mistake to correct, he said.
Like many Israelis, Pines-Paz is deeply concerned about Irans effort to obtain nuclear weapons, given the statements by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denying that Israel has a right to exist.
But he insists that Iran threatens more than just Israel, and Israel has to try to convince the world of that. He said there has to be an alliance of nations willing to stand up against Iran.
However, he refused even to discuss the possibility of Israel taking military action against Iran. This is a world-wide problem and the world should take care of it, he said.
Though clearly proud of his record and abilities, I am not trying to pretend that I have all the answers and know everything, he said. Thats not my style.
To be a leader is a tough and difficult job, he said. Nobody can promise a rose garden.
But he is sure that Israels future depends on us, and that Israelis must never give up the vision that Israel will be a country that will last forever and that wont have to fight for its existence every day, he said.