On Tuesday, Ron Huldai was re-elected to a fifth term as the mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. “As the guys say, it’s time to get back to work,” he declared immediately after his victory. “Starting tomorrow, we’ll work hard.”
And indeed, Huldai has a lot of work ahead of him — not only at the local level, such as building an infrastructure for public transportation on Shabbat, but also at the national level. Tel Aviv’s mayor was elected, in part, to represent an alternative to the steamroller of ultranationalism, religious fanaticism and incitement coming from the national government in Jerusalem.
During his 20 years in office, Huldai has turned Tel Aviv-Jaffa into a city that lives and works in defiance of the prevailing trends in Israeli society. He has resolutely and vocally opposed religionization and greatly reduced the number of religious organizations operating in nonreligious public schools. He fought former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s effort to close groceries on Shabbat and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s suspension of work on a pedestrian bridge in the city on Shabbat. He doesn’t participate in the ugly demonization of asylum seekers, prevalent among right-wing politicians, and even set up Mesila, the Aid and Information Center for Migrant Workers and Refugees, in the late 1990s. He publicly supports high school principals with leftist views (such as Ram Cohen and Zeev Dagani). He took part in the massive demonstration against the nation-state law that the Arab community organized in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Just recently, he proposed compensating any cultural institution that is harmed by Culture Ministry Miri Regev’s new “cultural loyalty” law.
Perhaps Huldai isn’t “nice”; he even admits as much. But in the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s incitement machine and the leadership vacuum on the left, Tel Aviv doesn’t need a nice guy running it. It needs an elected official capable of standing up forcefully for the basic principles that make a country enlightened and liberal.
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Huldai must continue to insist on making Tel Aviv-Jaffa a model for the Israel of the future — free, progressive and open to “the other.” He must continue to embrace the LGBT community; find additional solutions for asylum seekers and thereby ease the pressure on residents of south Tel Aviv; insist on uprooting religionization from the public square; be an address for artists and intellectuals, however critical they may be. Above all, he must continue to see to it that Tel Aviv will always be a home for anyone who wants to live in a sane Israel.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.