Shlomo Lahiani (Bat Yam), Yitzhak Rochberger (Ramat Hasharon) and Shimon Gafsou (Nazareth Illit) have the dubious distinction of being incumbent mayors removed from office by the High Court of Justice, but with a good chance of winning reelection.
The bizarre scenario is a result of precedent established by the court that sets rules on the issues of whether local officials can remain in office when under indictment for financial crimes, as opposed to violent crimes. Then, can such incumbent officials run for reelection? At the national level, the law has been interpreted to require ministers to step down from their posts upon indictment, as Avigdor Liberman stepped down as foreign minister, but allow them to remain in the Knesset and run for reelection until, and unless they are convicted.
The issue had never been decided at the local level, but the court said that it has the authority to remove mayors like Lahiani, Rochberger and Gafsou from office (in Lahiani’s case even less than two days before elections). But the High Court added that the Knesset had not given it the authority to bar such candidates from running for reelection prior to conviction.
According to media reports, Lahiani and Rochberger are heavy favorites to win reelection.
When Rochberger was elected for his most recent term, the police had already recommended he be indicted, but he won handily anyway.
Lahiani’s main opposition are Sasson Eliyahu, who has been affiliated with Likud- Beytenu, and previously served as deputy mayor, and Eli Yariv, who has been on Bat Yam’s City Council as well as the head of Histadrut Bat Yam.
Media reports indicate that Rochberger’s opponents include: Nurit Avner, previously deputy mayor, Liran Zilberman, a former lawyer and journalist, Avi Gruber, of Ramat Hasharon City Council and Idan Lamdan, also of the council.
Gafsou has a number of challengers, including, Sami Cohen, Yosef Shapushnik, Lea Shemtov and Adi Barak. But, according to media reports, Gafsou has strong unofficial backing by Likud-Beytenu, even after the High Court removed him as mayor.
Gafsou’s candidacy also raises some other issues as there has been significant public controversy about his explicit views of making Nazareth Illit a Jewish city and discouraging Arab-Israelis from remaining there, while not overtly violating the law.
All three candidates have emphasized the part of the High Court’s ruling which allow them to run for reelection, stressing the most important principle that they are innocent until convicted.
But the court left open the door to potentially re-firing the mayors upon their winning reelection.
One question the elections can answer is whether the public cares about what the High Court thinks when it comes to how serious the state should take alleged corruption of local officials.