Opinion |

Tel Aviv Mayor Should Lay Off the Nationalist Discourse

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, April 2020.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, April 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

They say about Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai that he is not liked very much. I like him quite a lot. I liked seeing him show up at Café Tamar on his bicycle on Friday to suffer the curses of the legendary Sarah, the owner, about the lack of public toilets in the city. I like seeing him in Yarkon Park on Fridays, walking with his friends – just like a regular guy. But more than anything else, Huldai is an excellent mayor, an enthusiastic hardworking man, a decent and honest liberal who has made the city what it is. Like most of the residents of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I owe him gratitude for everything he has done for the city.

His maiden speech on Tuesday as the leader of a party was excellent, too. Huldai demonstrated more care and sincerity than any of the politicians in his camp. Mummified in a Soviet-era suit two sizes too big for him, he asked the left the question of questions: “Are you so desperate, so much so that you think Sa’ar and Elkin are the ones who represent your values?”

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His entry into national politics is expected to bring back at least a little of the spirit of the dwindling camp. Huldai can symbolize hope, even a faint one. That is why one sentence he included in his speech was so grating – and it totally contradicted the values he spoke of, and the promise called Huldai. His reputation is built in part on enlightenment, secularism and humanism – which has strengthened over his years in office.

No other person in government did as much as he has for the asylum seekers, for opening up the city on Shabbat and its freewheeling cultural life. In Jerusalem police removed a protest statue. In Tel Aviv it stands in a city square. Hamis Abulafia died? Huldai eulogized him as a friend: “I will miss you a lot.” When people talk about the state of Tel Aviv, a place of enlightenment, they’re referring to the state of Huldai.

And then came his speech on Tuesday, with the sentence: “A clear Jewish majority … That is us.” The brigadier general in him escaped, the fighter pilot and kibbutznik from Hulda reared their heads – and with them the ugly Israeli nationalism that crosses the political spectrum. “A clear Jewish majority” – and all the enlightenment faded away.

After all, you called your party “The Israelis,” so why again the foolish longing for a Jewish majority? What’s wrong with Israelis who are not Jews? In what way was your friend Hamis inferior? And what if Hamis had been elected mayor? And if the Arabs were equal partners, and their brothers and sisters in the territories, under Israeli control, would that be a threat to the country, more threatening than having a racist majority?

If any party leader in Western Europe were to call to preserve a “clear German majority” or a “clear Christian majority” they would be condemned as racist – and it is doubtful whether they would dare to say it. But in Israel nationalism is a value, even in the most enlightened camp’s eyes.

Why, Ron, is a clear Jewish majority so important? What’s wrong with an Israeli majority? What’s bad about equality? How would your friend Hamis have felt to hear these words? And what about all the other residents of Jaffa? How should Arab citizens of the country feel about this lust for Judaization? And what is a Jewish state? Like the Islamic Republic of Iran or Pakistan? Except for them and Israel, there are no other countries that describe themselves by their religion, or the nationality of their residents. There is no such thing as a Jewish state. There is only a democratic country – or not.

It is doubtful whether Huldai, like any Israeli, knows what they are talking about when they talk about a Jewish state. A country that doesn’t have public transportation on the Sabbath? Huldai is against that. Where they celebrate Tu Bishvat? Where they speak Hebrew? Where they learn Talmud in school? All of this is possible even without a Jewish majority. But Huldai, like almost all Israelis, continues to recite what they taught him on the kibbutz and in the IDF, without making himself account for what he is saying: A call for a Jewish majority is the call of dark nationalists. So give it up Ron, it’s just not you.

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