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Tel Aviv's Mayor for Prime Minister? Look How He Runs His City

Niv Hadas
Niv Hadas
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A demonstration against the second nationwide coronavirus lockdown on a Tel Aviv beach, Israel, September 19, 2020.
A demonstration against the second nationwide coronavirus lockdown on a Tel Aviv beach, Israel, September 19, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Niv Hadas
Niv Hadas

When it comes to fines, the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality is more creative than Leonardo da Vinci high on magic mushrooms, especially during these deceptive times.

Last week, for example, I had to pay 250 shekels ($73) for parking in an unmarked space inside a parking lot. A neighbor was fined because she spent time with her dog in the neighborhood dog park, which, as she was told, is not defined as “a park for letting dogs loose,” while another neighbor got a ticket because he put garbage into ... the building’s garbage bin.

Haaretz podcast: Israel in lockdown limbo, and what's really stuffed in Bibi's laundry suitcasesCredit: Haaretz

It’s a shame that this originality, momentum and thinking out of the box are not addressed to the handling of the coronavirus crisis.

In the months that have passed since the outbreak of the pandemic, Mayor Ron Huldai has not spared criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government. A month ago he even went so far as to say, in an interview with Shelly Yachimovich and Yigal Guetta, that he doesn’t rule out running for prime minister.

The residents of Tel Aviv couldn’t help fantasizing how the proven, level-headed project manager Huldai – even his critics find it hard to deny his considerable ability to get things done – would handle the crisis, compared to Netanyahu, who is weighed down with special interests, and wants to leverage the situation for his benefit. But Huldai has failed this time no less than Netanyahu.

Tel Aviv could have and should have been an example of the opposite of the chaos and managerial failure of the State of Israel. It should have shown that with a businesslike approach, without political considerations of survival or dubious coalition alliances, the collapse of the economy, society and the health care system could be prevented.

If Tal Ohana, the young mayor of Yeruham, was able to create an independent system for stopping the chain of infection, and turned the city from “red” to “green,” the highly experienced Huldai, with his city’s inflated municipal coffers and homogeneous population, should also have tried to create a different sort of place: a Mediterranean New Zealand, an Israeli “bubble,” or, as a wise man once said, a villa in the jungle.

For the sake of his residents, his political ambitions and the entire public, Huldai should have produced a showcase that would expose the nakedness of Netanyahu’s inferior management. He should have formed a professional shadow government, with municipal powers, which instead of shutting down Israel’s main artery, along with the entire country, would have breathed life into it and maintained its normal functioning.

Ron Huldai during a Tel Aviv council meeting on video-link, April 2020.Credit: Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality

The kind of government that would have benefitted small business owners, non-salaried workers and service providers, among others, compensated people based on need, and treated every sector according to its risk level and necessity to the economy – instead of imposing a general lockdown, for the sake of appearances.

Such a shadow government, with ministers of health, education, housing, labor and welfare, would have given hope, maintained the character and urban fabric of Tel Aviv, and caused the earth to tremble beneath Netanyahu’s feet.

Regarding the collapsing cultural scene, Huldai doesn’t have to look far afield. After all, his deputy, Assaf Harel, comes from that world, is familiar with its dynamics and could suggest solutions that would bypass the total darkening of performance venues.

But Huldai, with all his declarations, criticism and fines, surrendered to the depressing helplessness that now prevails in Israel. Instead of preventing the need for the total lockdown and safeguarding his city before it was too late – there is no expectation that as a mayor he will call on people to violate the law – he has proven that the State of Tel Aviv is only an illusion, which like all the other dreams of 2020 is gradually dissipating.

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