Interior Minister Arye Dery has sought to block an Arab city councillor from being named as a deputy mayor of Haifa, on the grounds of his alleged support in the past for Hamas.
The appointment of Raja Zaatry of Hadash, a pro-Communist party, has angered residents of the mixed Jewish-Arab city, and Dery said on Friday he was looking into whether he can block the appointment, claiming that Zaatry supports terrorist organizations.
“Raja Zaatry, a member of the Haifa city council, has expressed support for Hezbollah and Hamas, has supported boycotts of Israel and action against Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Such a person cannot be named as a deputy mayor as Haifa’s mayor seeks to do,” Dery tweeted.
Dery has asked his legal adviser about the issue. Zaatry was elected in October’s local elections as a member of the Haifa Front, a party linked to Hadash. According to the coalition agreement he is to serve as a deputy mayor during the second half of the new mayor’s term.
The protests against his appointment began on a Haifa residents’ Facebook page; another page has been opened on the same issue at the initiative of the right-wing group Im Tirtzu. Right-wing lawmakers have also spoken out against his appointment. Likud MK Yoav Kish asked Dery to intervene, writing to him that “in recent days details of his (Zaatry's) support for the terrorist organization Hamas have been published... Today there is no possibility under the law to prevent a mayor from naming such a person as deputy mayor but the minister should have the authority to do so.”
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Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid has also come out against Zaatry's appointment. He called on the Zionist Union, the party to which Haifa’s new mayor Einat Kalish Rotem belongs, to call on her to cancel the agreement “that links them to the worst of Israel’s haters.”
Zaatry has made a number of controversial remarks in the past. In 2015 as Joint List campaign leader he said Hamas is not a terrorist organization and that ISIS draws inspiration from Zionism. “Where did they learn these crimes from? Look at what the Zionist movement did in 1948 – rape, plunder, and murder.” He has also expressed support in the past for Syria’s President Bashar Assad and for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Zaatry told Haaretz that Likud and Shas were left out of the city’s coalition and were now competing over which could be more right wing.
“I understand there are people I bother a little. I wasn’t elected just in order to pat anyone on the back, I was elected in order to serve my voters,” he said.
Zaatry said the city has established two new organizations one that would further Jewish-Arab equality, which he is heading, and an authority for greater coexistence which the mayor will lead.
The Haifa Municipality and mayor’s offices did not comment. The mayor wrote on her Facebook page several days ago that “when I signed an agreement with Degel HaTorah before the elections, secular voters accused me of seeking to turn Haifa into Bnei Brak. When I signed an agreement with Yisrael Beitenu, I was cautioned by the left that Haifa would lose its image as a moderate city and thus be harmed. Today we have signed an agreement with the Hadash party,” she said, adding that “the Arab public is an important part of our city.”