Two city councilors on Thursday dropped out of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s coalition in protest to the municipality's controversial decision to demolish a historic Muslim burial ground in Jaffa to make way for new construction of a homeless shelter.
The departure by Amir Badran and Moriya Shlomot, supporters of the Hadash joint Jewish-Arab party, leaves Huldai without any Arab politicians in his coalition, nor any representatives from Jaffa. The two join Abed Abu Shehada, a well-known social activist in Jaffa and a member of the city council, who dropped out last week for the same reason.
Badran and Shlomot have rejoined another member of Hadash, Shula Keshet, who rejected involvement in the coalition from the outset. Assaf Harel, the chairman of the pro-Huldai We Are the City faction, is now the other one of four party members left in the coalition and he has not yet made any public statements about the tensions in Jaffa despite being very active about the issue during the last municipal election campaign.
Tensions over the construction project arose last week when the city sent its bulldozers to begin destroying the burial ground to make way for a planned homeless shelter. Residents criticized the municipality's treatment of its Arab citizens, and held daily demonstrations during which some protesters set fire to bins and threw stones, and Israel police used extreme crowd control measures against them.
The Tel Aviv District Court issued an injunction barring further construction at the site on Wednesday, pending a ruling on a petition filed by the Muslim council in Jaffa against the project, contesting the validity of a license to build atop the burial ground.
Badran and Shlomot issued a statement that their decision was not only based on the destruction of the burial grounds but for what they see as a failure to influence the city’s agenda. “Despite repeated promises by the mayor and his team that they are committed to these issues, the reality on the ground is the opposite,” their statement said.
Badran added that “Huldai’s decision to destroy and desecrate the burial ground without holding any dialogue with the local community and to be attentive to its needs was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
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He said that “for a year and a half we’ve been trying to influence priorities from inside the city coalition with regard to Jaffa and other neighborhoods in the city’s south. Again and again we run up against the mayor’s rejection and decisions that ignore and offend weaker populations, particularly the Arab residents of Jaffa.”
Shlomot added that the city “is doing great things but the presumption that wisdom only exists on the municipality’s 1th floor (Huldai’s office) is a basic error and harms every decision made with respect to city residents particularly the weaker of them whose voices don’t reach the top. Tel Aviv-Jaffa could be a beacon of democracy and stand up against the anti-democratic concepts pervading the national government. The closed mindedness toward those offended by city, government policy and market forces deal additional blows to already weak communities.”