When Menachem Ariav entered the Upper Nazareth local council building, as deputy council head, Levi Eshkol was prime minister and Shimon Peres was one of "Ben-Gurion's boys." Upper Nazareth then had a population of only a few thousand. A year earlier, in 1966, Israel ended the military government established in 1948 for the country's predominantly Arab regions; later that year, the Six-Day War of June 1967 would break out.
Yesterday, after 41 years in office, Ariav announced he would be saying goodbye to public life. During that period, Peres' career underwent several transformations before he became the nation's president, Israel fought several wars and Upper Nazareth became of Northern Israel's largest cities. Ariav's departure appears to signal the disappearance from public life of one of the last politicians of Israel's "Mapai [the Labor Party's forerunner] generation."
Ariav served as the city's mayor for 31 years, after filling the role of deputy local council head for 10 years. Over the years, he has become identified with the city he has managed for decades and with its rapid growth, as well as with the economic slowdown of recent years. His tense relations with his Arab neighbors are also a well-known fact.
He still talks in terms of concepts that define Upper Nazareth as a "Zionist, national enterprise," still speaks of immigrant absorption as an important value, and is proud of his city's industries.
Not everyone liked his decades-long centralized regime. In the past, his rivals even nicknamed him "Ceausescu" (a reference to deposed Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed in 1989); the reason for the nickname was not just Ariav's Romanian background. A bitter political rival, Shimon Gapso, remembers Ariav's unique capacity "for taking revenge on his enemies." According to Gapso, "Ariav made a serious error by surrounding himself for years with incompetent advisers. He has not been able to hold on to the city's younger residents or to effectively integrate new residents. And he did not realize that he should have quit two terms of office ago and should have made room for others."
Upper Nazareth was founded in 1956 in accordance with a directive from then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who wanted to create a Jewish city alongside the Arab city of Nazareth. The migration of Jewish residents to adjacent community settlements are problems that are prominent features in Upper Nazareth's municipal elections. "However," Ariav points out, "it's time to pack up my bags and go home. Until I leave, there is still one more fight remaining - we have to be included in a National Priority Zone. There is no time right now for any farewell festivals."
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