A City of All Its Residents

In recent years the Tel Aviv miracle has found itself under assault. It is specifically the city's success that is endangering it.

One of the most impressive Israeli creations is the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The kibbutz is not what it once was, the Histadrut has lost its uniqueness, but the first Hebrew city is alive and kicking. The White City, which arose from what were once sands, will celebrate 100 years of normalcy next year. One hundred years of intense urbanism and a special cultural life. One hundred years of art, theater and music. One hundred years of creativity during the day and unleashing human urges and desires at night. One hundred years of a civil, free and flourishing Israeli society.

Shlomo Lahat is the person who redefined Tel Aviv as a city that doesn't sleep. Since his stint as mayor, which spanned the 1970s and 80s, our Mediterranean coastal city has become one of the most fascinating metropolises in the world. Mayors who since succeeded him could not measure up to Cheech, though they did continue his legacy. Under both Roni Milo and Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv continued to preserve its unique style and flavor. On the one hand, it provided its inhabitants with everything that a major city is supposed to provide, while on the other it maintained its dimensions to fit human proportions. While New York, London and Paris have become cities for the well to do - places that have left no room for young people, artists and the bare-knuckled life - Tel Aviv has preserved its rich, colorful tapestry. It has enabled millionaires, students, bourgeois, gays and lesbians to live side by side in one municipal setting. Money was always part of Tel Aviv, but money has not managed to embalm Tel Aviv. Freedom and vivaciousness have turned the Israeli capital of normalcy into a city that arouses astonishment and amazement all over the world.

However, in recent years the Tel Aviv miracle has found itself under assault. It is specifically the city's success that is endangering it. The mass migration into Tel Aviv has led to skyrocketing real estate prices which many young people are unable to afford. Luxury apartment buildings belonging to the affluent are altering the urban landscape while threatening the heterogeneous human fabric. Private automobiles that have inundated the metropolis cause more pollution, congestion, a lack of available parking and a sense of strangulation. As such, what has worked in the past does not work in the present, and it certainly will not work in the future. If the current trend in which Tel Aviv is subjugated to the will of the unbridled free market continues, the city will change unrecognizably. Young people, students and artists will be pushed out to the suburbs. The rugged city life will disappear. Like New York, Paris and London, Tel Aviv will be embalmed. It will become a city of the rich, run by the rich, for the benefit of the rich.

Ron Huldai is a hyperactive mayor. From dawn until dusk he plants, uproots, digs, paves, builds and destroys. And yet, like John McCain, Huldai is a good man who represents an anachronistic paradigm. He worships at the altar of the luxury towers and does not serve the city's inhabitants. He nurtures the city's hardware but not its software. He does not grasp the secret of the charm of the urban creation he is tasked with overseeing. In good faith and with great effort, he is building a city of the affluent which is burying Tel Aviv underneath it. This is why this week's municipal elections in the country's main city are of great importance to the entire country. They will determine what kind of metropolis Israel will feature. They will determine whether the Israeli creation, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, will maintain its unique hue, its essentialness and distinctiveness.

Huldai will be opposed in these elections by MK Dov Khenin and the Ir L'kulanu (A City For Us All) youth movement. Khenin is a serious man of depth, wisdom and values unlike any other. Even elected officials on the right acknowledge that he is an impressive public servant and an exceptional parliamentarian. Ir L'kulanu is an authentic political movement representing pro-environment advocates, young people and neighborhood residents who hold both rightist and leftist views. It has emerged in a most democratic and moving fashion from within the same fabric of Tel Avivian vivaciousness that Huldai has threatened. Both Khenin and Ir L'kulanu are the true epitome of politics of a different kind: politics of values rather than intrigues, politics of character rather than personality, politics of representative service rather than corruption.

Yes, Dov Khenin is a communist. It is not easy for a Zionist to support a communist. But these elections are municipal, not national. The question that hangs in the balance is not whether Israel will become a state of all its citizens, but whether Tel Aviv will be a city of all its residents. Khenin, for his part, has proven his incorruptibility by adding Likudniks and skullcap-wearing politicians to his list. As such, there is no justification for the ugly campaign being waged against him. He, as well as the political movement he heads, are a reason for national pride, not a pretext for McCarthyist persecution.

Last week, America opened its heart and voted for change. It would be nice if, this week, Tel Aviv would open its heart and vote for change. This change is small, local and humble, but it does not lack importance. We deserve to have Tel Aviv as a city for all of us.