Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar.
(photo credit: NETANYA MUNICIPALITY)
While Netanya’s mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar sits in jail under police investigation, residents of Netanya appear conflicted. On one hand, the Likud stalwart enjoyed overwhelming popularity in the seaside enclave which elected her to four consecutive terms, amounting to nearly two uninterrupted decades in office. On the other, she has now joined the long list of mayors who have faced corruption charges.
The streets of downtown Netanya on Thursday afternoon are flooded with children and parents as school lets out. Advertisements for new building projects, along with real estate agencies hawking luxury apartments, highlight the city’s growth, characterized by developments that cling to its seaside boardwalk.
It is regarding one of those luxury developments – the Coral apartments – that Feirberg- Ikar stands accused of giving favorable zoning and building licenses.
Netanya numbers around 200,000 residents and has long been seen as working-class city, despite the boom in seaside luxury properties. The city is also a haven for immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia – and more recently in large waves – from France.
Yitzhak, who declined to state his last name, owns a cellphone store. “She is a great mayor,” he says. “She built this city, she worked so hard. It is simply a pity that this happened.”
In cafes, men huddle around coffee and cigarettes to discuss Fierberg-Ikar’s arrest. Arguments both in favor of the police action and against it are plentiful, illustrating a community divided over the fate of their mayor.
Netanya City Hall is still busy and, from the outside, appears to be continuing as normal.
As employees joke around on a coffee break, however, the security guard has seen one too many reporters since the scandal broke. “You’re a journalist right?” he immediately asks.
“You can’t come in without an appointment.”
Ehud Davidi owns a store in Netanya that sells eyeglasses, but lives in Herzliya. He says Feirberg-Ikar is an exemplary mayor. “In Herzliya the mayor barely does anything. But she [Feirberg-Ikar] is amazing, she has invested a huge amount in this city. I hope she is freed soon.”
Avital, who also declines to state her last name, has lost faith in the mayor following the allegations. “It’s good that she is sitting in jail. All the taxes the city takes was probably going straight to her pockets,” she says.
Ariel Ashkenazi, who works at a Toto lottery kiosk, was severely disappointed by the allegations, but says he would still vote for Feirberg-Ikar. “Fifteen years ago you could not even walk around this city, there was so much crime. Feirberg turned things around, she made us proud to be here. But I didn’t know she would act like every other politician, which is a pity,” he says.