The municipal election in the majority Arab city of Nazareth is just around the corner and the competition is fierce for the position of mayor. Insults and accusations of corruption abound.
The incumbent, Ramiz Jaraisy, faces opposition from four candidates, with current MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) standing out among them, grabbing the most media attention.
The Jerusalem Post asked Jaraisy how confident he was in victory and his reply was quick: “One-hundred percent.”
Asked why his confidence was so high, he said it was a combination of factors, from poll results and talking to people of the city.
Questioned about the other candidates, he said they did not interest him.
Jaraisy then went on to list a number of projects that are planned to develop the city, such as building a large auditorium.
He added that there is an industrial area now, but that a new one is being planned.
Tourism is doing very well, he said, both from abroad and from inside the country, he said, pointing out that there is a plan to build many new hotels, as the occupancy rate is currently very high.
Nazareth has lots of good restaurants and many people arrive every week to the city to enjoy them, he said.
Jaraisy, a Christian, played down religious divisions in the city, which is split between Muslims and Christians.
Christians had once dominated the city, but the demographic balance has shifted and now around 70% of the residents are Muslim.
“We are one society and have a culture of cooperation together despite the difference in religion,” he said. “People who vote for me do so based on my record, without any connection to religion.”
Regarding one of his challengers, Zoabi, he said that she has been an MK and “could have done a lot for Nazareth there, but she didn’t.”
“After she loses, she can go back to the Knesset and work for the good of the city,” he said.
Zoabi told the Post that the campaign was hard but going well.
She seemed to admit that she was not the favorite to win the election, stating that the reason is because of unfair tactics that Jaraisy is using in the campaign.
Instead of making an argument on why he should be mayor, he involves himself in corruption by having his supporters give meat away to city residents for the holiday in order to buy their votes, she claimed.
Zoabi said that a complaint could be filed with the election committee, but that a legal case would be difficult to prove because there is no clear connection between those distributing the meat and the mayor.
“If you want to help people, don’t help them in front of the camera,” she said. “It is a publicity campaign. If you know that there are poor families in Nazareth, you should improve their economic situation by helping them and developing the city economically.”
Zoabi also accused Jaraisy’s supporters in the municipality of making threatening comments to those connected with people in her campaign. She said that there are reports that people were told they could lose their jobs, their customers, and contracts because of their connections to my meetings, activities, or articles.
In addition, she said that people connected to the mayor have offered people the easing of debts with the city, such as taxes.
“Because of these activities he is assured to win, but he should not think that the majority want him to win or believe that he is working for the benefit of Nazareth,” said Zoabi.
She said that this kind of behavior during elections is typical in Arab municipalities, and it is very difficult to prove allegations because people are afraid, she said.
In addition, Zoabi’s campaign sent the Post documents and copies of the police complaint she filed in regard to the allegation that some businessmen connected to Jaraisy were given lighter fees than what was called for. An adviser in her office explained that the case in question relates to the Big Fashion company and that instead of paying NIS 13 million in taxes, it was able to lower the amount to NIS 3 million.
The complaint was submitted to the police last week.
Responding to Jaraisy’s comment regarding industrial areas, she retorted, “Ask him what kind of work there is in this industrial area.”
All of the businesses are going to the Jewish town of Upper Nazareth, she asserted.
Furthermore, the shuk in Nazareth is dead, with around 90% [of businesses] closed and others only work around four hours a day, she claimed.
Regarding tourism in Nazareth, she said that the city had almost two million visitors in 2012, but just 10% stayed in hotels in the city. Most of the tourists spend between five to six hours in the city and do not spend much money while here, because there are not many tourist activities besides going to see the church.
“There is no tourist info center,” she said adding that tourism in the city should include teaching the history of the city.
The Post contacted Jaraisy regarding Zoabi’s accusations, and he strongly denied any wrongdoing. Regarding the alleged meat giveaways, he said that he did not give any meat away and that there is a factory in the city that is staffed by volunteers and has been giving away meat for years to poor families during every holiday.
He said that the case regarding Big Fashion is completely untrue, and that these accusations deal with a committee that he has not been part of for the past 15 years.
In addition, he went on, the member of the city council who gave her this information has shown regret for telling this lie. Also, the accuser is biased and comes from her party, he added.
“I would be happy if there is an investigation and the Interior Ministry can check all these lies,” he strongly asserted.
“There is nobody in the city who does not know that what is most important for me is keeping it clean,” said Jaraisy, pointing out that he has been reelected several times in a row because of this reputation.
“She doesn’t know what is going on and it doesn’t surprise me,” he concluded.