'Snake' comment causes rift in Israeli coalition


ISRAEL’S LABOR Party is threatening to leave the coalition unless prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemns comments by his vice-premier, Moshe Ya’alon, who said Labor Party leader Ehud Barak was “like a snake”.

Labor secretary-general Weizmann Shiri said the prime minister had no alternative but to fire his Likud Party colleague, Mr Ya’alon, one of the most right-wing ministers in the cabinet.

“If he fails to do so,” Mr Shiri warned, “we have no other choice but to convene the Labor Party institutions and discuss quitting the government.”

Minister of strategic affairs Mr Ya’alon made his controversial statement during a closed meeting, saying events this week reinforced earlier comments he had made about the need to wear wellington boots at the defence ministry headquarters because of the “snakes”.

The background to his comments was the testimony given this week by Mr Barak, Israel’s defence minister, to the Israeli commission investigating the naval raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla at the end of May, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Mr Barak told the panel he accepted full responsibility for the orders given to the military. But Mr Ya’alon, who was acting prime minister at the time of the raid because Mr Netanyahu was abroad, accused the defence minister of shirking responsibility. “The defence minister didn’t let anyone get involved, and now he is shifting responsibility on everyone,” Mr Ya’alon said.

Mr Shiri said the prime minister had to act because Mr Ya’alon, who along with Mr Barak is one of seven ministers who make up Israel’s inner-cabinet strategic decisionmaking forum, failed to adhere to the principle of collective cabinet responsibility.

Coalition whip Knesset member Zeev Elkin, from the prime minister’s Likud Party, responded by saying that Mr Barak was attacked every day by members of his own party who showed no collective responsibility whatsoever.

“I would recommend that the Labor Party secretary deal with his party’s many problems instead of giving the prime minister advice,” he said.

The opposition revelled in the coalition infighting and what appeared to be efforts by senior officials to shift the blame for the flotilla raid.

Knesset member Nachman Shai from the main opposition party Kadima said, “Ya’alon’s statements strengthen the feeling of loathing amongst Israelis, at the end of a week during which its leaders competed who would do more to shift the responsibility on others.”

Fellow Kadima parliamentarian Shlomo Molla said Mr Ya’alon’s attack was a sign of a weak government. “There is no leadership, no responsibility, just covering one’s behind. As long as these are the decisionmakers, it is no wonder that our situation is not getting better.”

Separately, German authorities released a suspected Israeli spy on bail pending a decision on whether he was involved in the falsification of a German passport linked to the killing of a Hamas leader in Dubai.

A spokesman for state prosecutors in Cologne said Uri Brodsky had been freed from police custody yesterday and that he would not have to stand trial in Germany.

“The matter can now be dealt with by written proceedings,” the court spokesman said, adding that Mr Brodsky had not commented on whether he was involved in the falsification of the passport issued in Cologne last year.

The spokesman said the most likely option was a fine of some kind. He would not say what bail was set at or where Mr Brodsky was headed. However, he noted that if Mr Brodsky left Germany by land, he risked possible arrest in neighbouring countries on suspicion of spying.

Mr Brodsky was extradited from Poland on Thursday on suspicion of fraudulently obtaining a German passport believed to have been used by a member of the hit squad that Dubai says killed Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)