Editorial

Mayor of Haifa, Don’t Give In

Interior MInister Arye Dery, a convicted criminal and serial suspect, wants to prevent the appointment of an Arab as the city's deputy mayor because of his political views

Arab city councillor Raja Zaatry of Hadash, a pro-Communist party, December 2018
Rami Shllush

The leader of the Hadash party on the Haifa city council, Raja Zaatry, is slated to be appointed deputy mayor. Interior Minister Arye Dery announced that he’s looking into how he can prevent the appointment, because he claims Zaatry supports terrorist organizations and anti-Israel boycotts. On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed Dery’s position, saying at the start of the cabinet meeting that he had called Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem and asked her “to cancel the appointment of a deputy mayor who supports Hezbollah and Hamas, which openly announce their intention of destroying Israel.”

Zaatry was elected to the city council in a democratic election as a representative of the city’s Arab community and other voters who supported Hadash’s municipal ticket, known as the Haifa Front. He has spoken in the past in a manner not all Haifa residents would agree with, but he denies some of the statements attributed to him.

“I’ll represent the city’s residents, Arabs and Jews, for the sake of a dignified life, true partnership, social and distributive justice and ethical propriety,” he said. “I’m not a member of either Hamas or Hezbollah.”

Dery, a convicted criminal and serial suspect, wants to prevent Zaatry’s appointment as deputy mayor because of his political views. The prime minister, as usual, is trying to ride the wave of demonization and wink at members of his Likud party’s central committee. But Dery and Netanyahu aren’t alone. They have received a tailwind from the political center, which is nothing but the nationalist right in disguise.

Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, hastened to jump on the bandwagon of incitement by tweeting, “The Labor Party’s decision to appoint a declared supporter of Hezbollah and BDS, who has compared Zionism to the Islamic State, is complete madness. Zionist Union must order Kalisch Rotem to immediately cancel this agreement, which links it to the worst of Israel’s enemies.”

Kulanu party chairman Moshe Kahlon said, “There’s no place in public administration for a person who, in his behavior, represents inflammatory views against Israel.”

Netanyahu and Dery, egged on by the Israeli political center, reflect the current Israeli zeitgeist, in which democracy means the tyranny of the majority and riding roughshod over minorities. Zaatry is a legitimate representative, even if his views displease the interior minister. His appointment as deputy mayor is important for Haifa; it is a harbinger of integration and a shared life in Israel’s most tolerant mixed city.

Thus, one must admire the city’s new mayor, who stood behind the appointment and declared, “The Arab community is an important part of our city, and we must respect the will of its voters. We’ll also demand that they, to the same degree, respect the will of the rest of Haifa’s voters, including those on the right.” We can only hope she will withstand the pressure being exerted on her and refuse to cancel the appointment.