Culture, Science and Sports Minister Ophir Pines-Paz said during a special press conference, in which he announces his resignation from the government, that "in spite of the great difficulty and my desire to be part of the circle of decision makers, I cannot resist my conscience."
As his associated predicted last week,
Pines-Paz decided to take a move contradicting that of the rest of his fellow Labor Party ministers, who earlier voted in favor of Israel Our Home's inclusion into the government.
Apart from the resignation announcement, Pines-Paz also officially declared that he plans to run for the Labor Party chairmanship in the May 2007 elections.
"When the person standing at the top of the pyramid is not a leader – he must be replaced, Pines-Paz said, directing his words to Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz.
"Whoever cannot stand by his principles, whoever cannot give up on sitting in the government in any case, cannot reliably lead the party forward," he added.
Pines-Paz opened the press conference with an announcement on his recent moves: "I handed a resignation letter from the government to the Government Secretariat," Pines-Paz said at the start of the press conference. "I also informed the party chairman, the secretary-general and the faction chairman about my decision."
Pines-Paz at press conference (Photo: Dudi Vaknin)
"I believe that a person must operate according to his conscience and a party must operate according to its conscience," Pines-Paz said.
"I called on the party to act according to its conscience and not allow Lieberman's entry into the government. I fought for it, but unfortunately the ministers voted in favor of staying in the government.
"The moment the government decided to allow the inclusion of Lieberman and his party, whose leaders are infected with racist and anti-democratic statements, I am left with no other choice."
"I submitted the resignation letter with a heavy heart. I wanted to continue to serve in the government and influence its policy and take part in decisions regarding the State's future, but I was left with no choice but to resign," the minister added.
"I have been approached by many elements, who made the decision very difficult. I am referring to my best friends, who were my partners in a long road. All those who approached me are dear people and I am sorry I had to deny their requests."
Slamming his party, Pines-Paz said: "Unfortunately, Lieberman's entry into the government was made possible because the Labor Party and its leadership lost their way. It is definitely inconvenient and not simple to be outside the government.
"It is not easy for the party chairman to ignore all the convenient components and all the excuses and inform the prime minister that he must choose between Israel Our Home headed by Lieberman and the Labor Party headed by Peretz. It's not convenient, but It's necessary," he said.
Pines-Paz referred to criticism leveled at him in recent days, since his intention to resign became known.
"I believe in collective responsibility, I believe in accepting and respecting the decisions of the majority…. It is this sense of responsibility that made me hold back more than once when the government acted contrary to my opinion… and it is out of this responsibility that I continued to be a member of this not-outstanding government, but no majority can determine the conscience's path or replace personal responsibility."
Pines-Paz then harshly criticized Lieberman and the government that voted him in. "In addition to the moral stain that taints the Olmert government with Lieberman and Israel Our Home's addition to the government and the coalition, it is also politically wrong.
"I ask again what experience qualifies Lieberman to be the minister in charge of Israel's strategic intelligence… we can't concede our ideology for political convenience and we mustn't appoint those that are unworthy, there should be a limit to the wheeling and dealing," he said.
"Ever since the second Lebanon war, the government has lost its way: It does not deal with the realignment, it neglects to handle socioeconomic problems, it fails to address the issue of Hamas, it does not promote even one important process and it mainly leaves an impression of confusion and loss of credibility," Pines-Paz stated.
Monday evening, the Knesset will vote on Lieberman's appointment as minister. Some MKs are still undecided about the vote, after having led the struggle against Lieberman's addition to the government. MK Shelly Yacimovich has already announced she plans to absent herself from the vote.