Mitzpeh Ramon's Embattled Mayor Pins Hopes on Interior Ministry

The corridor leading to Flora Shoshan's refurbished office at the Mitzpeh Ramon local council is filled with women: women peeping out of their offices, women behind desks, women staring at computer screens, women typing or busy with phone calls. "Everyone here is a woman," Haaretz photographer Tomer Appelbaum commented. "Yes, there are a lot of women here," council head Shoshan replied, half in jest, "and soon we'll kick out the men who are left."

Shoshan has been mayor of this southern town of 5,500 people for a year. She was elected to the post in an unscheduled election after the resignation of her predecessor, Sami Shoshan, who is also her husband.

Shoshan, a self-described activist for women's empowerment since she was 21, said she never imagined she would receive such a chilly welcome. Immediately after her election, she faced every local council head's worst nightmare: "Out of 10 council members in the plenum, seven were in opposition to me."

With that opening hand, you cannot do much except play the interior minister card. When Roni Bar-On was minister, he ousted the entire Mitzpeh Ramon council because its members had not passed the 2007 budget. Since then, Meir Sheetrit has taken over at the Interior Ministry, and Shoshan is anxiously waiting to see whether he appoints a caretaker committee in her place.

A ministry decision on this matter might be made as early as this week. But all signs point to Shoshan remaining on the second floor of the office building above Mitzpeh Ramon's shopping center.

Her opponents also realize there is little chance she will be given the boot. They even have an explanation for this. Danny Sheetrit (no relation to the minister), one of the ousted council members, draws a photograph from the gossip column of a daily paper out of a pile of documents on his desk. Meir Sheetrit, the caption reveals, celebrated his 59th birthday at a nonkosher restaurant in Ashdod and invited friends. Among the invitees were former defense minister Amir Peretz and his wife, Ahlama. Ahlama sang a Moroccan song to the birthday boy, then moved on to Chava Alberstein songs.

Flora Shoshan is Peretz's sister. "With social connections like these, can anyone at the Interior Ministry decide against Shoshan?" Danny Sheetrit asked.

The ousted council members are furious that she "inherited" the mayor's job, even though she was democratically elected. "It doesn't look right. It looks as if her husband bequeathed her the post. What, are we in Saudi Arabia?" asked an angry former council member.

Her more polite opponents say that just as her brother failed in the Second Lebanon War, so she has failed in leading Mitzpeh Ramon.

"Community center workers don't get paid, and the same goes for the council's development company," said one, Yitzhak Zargeri.

Sheetrit goes further, describing Shoshan as "a total failure": "Everything has collapsed like a deck of cards since she was elected," he said, adding that the first thing she cut was the budget for the local sports team, "so there isn't even any sports life here."

Some of Shoshan's opponents do not hesitate to spice their criticism with a healthy dose of venom. At one of the early council sessions under Shoshan, the local Likud Party chair, Moshe Deri, who had run against her, called her "a battered wife" and directed her to "go to a battered women's shelter." Someone else called her "Cinderella."

Others have harsh words for her conduct, and that of her brother, in last October's election campaign and accuse her of irregularities.

Deri admitted this week that he had called Shoshan a battered woman, but said that he had not meant it literally. "She is battered in the sense that she is her husband's marionette. Everything he tells her to do, she does."

On hearing the litany of accusations, Shoshan said it is all because she is a woman. "Before me, there was a man in the same post. He had the exact same council plenum, and they voted in favor of everything he brought for their approval without batting an eye."

Shoshan views herself as having "name-brand recognition." She does not understand why her colleagues on the council do not make use of her leverage.

"Evidently, they haven't yet recognized my potential," she said. "When I go to various government ministries, they look at me and say, 'well done!' I come back here and deal with little people who are busy with chauvinistic statements. While everyone talks about equal opportunity, I'm doing it. I placed myself in a man's system and I provide an example to other women like me."