When Rachel Azaria announced her candidacy for mayor, not everyone was happy. People asked why she joined so late in the game, why she would want to split the vote, and rumors spread that she was out of favor with Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon, and seeking another political home.
Surprised at the vehemence and cynicism, and wanting to hear her response, I asked to meet with her. Sitting in her office in the Knesset between voting on bills, Azaria addressed these questions and more.
“I conducted deep research which showed that the story of Jerusalem is very different from the way people are presenting it in this campaign. There are two extreme candidates, Ofer Berkovitch and Yossi Daitch. One is secular, the other ultra-Orthodox. They are stirring a fight among these populations for their own gain. It has nothing to do with the future of Jerusalem. It is bad for Jerusalem. For so long, we have been working to build bridges between people. Ten years ago, I brought religious Zionists together and created what we called ‘pluralistic Jerusalem,’ which is not about if you’re religious or not, it’s about how you want the public arena to be.
“Now, I know how to bring the haredim. I am going to have a haredi woman on my list and we are going to stop this campaign of haredi vs secular. It is a hate and fear campaign and we don’t need that in Jerusalem. We didn’t come back after 2,000 years to fight. We need to work together. Jerusalem is the future of Israel.”
Fiercely, she says, “They are determined to make a campaign of hate. I am going to prove that we can do it differently. I’m not going to let them tear down our city. That’s why I got involved now. The elections are important, but the day after elections are more important and I won’t let people gain mandates through hate.”
Is it true that your position in Kulanu is tenuous?
“I am very comfortable here, I have a great job. The other day [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid met me in the hall, he said, ‘Rachel, what are you doing? Next time you’ll be a minister! Why get bogged down in the fighting over Jerusalem?’ I told him, ‘Yair, I feel responsibility for the city. I only went into politics for Jerusalem. I would never have been a politician otherwise.’ Moshe Kahlon is supportive and understands why I am doing this. I coordinated it with him.”
MK Michael Oren – in a call after this interview – confirmed that Azaria’s position is one of a valued member of Kulanu. “In our weekly faction meeting Moshe gave his blessing to Rachel’s candidacy. He confirmed that it was coordinated with him, and that he has the utmost confidence in her. She is a respected member of Kulanu. She is a dedicated civil servant, a first-class political mind.”
But what is your platform?
1. The people of Jerusalem. Azaria says plainly, “We can live here together.” It sounds like a slogan, but Azaria has done her homework: “I discovered that 67% of Jerusalemites want to live here together. They don’t want fighting.”
In May she commissioned a study to get a sense of the population and to see if her candidacy was viable.
Her study shows that 75% agree that the same mayor can represent both haredi and secular populations, and 67% agree with the sentence: Only when there is cooperation between secular and haredi can Jerusalem have real change.
2. Life in Jerusalem. “I know how to run the city,” she says. “I am the only candidate who was in Jerusalem and who has done real work. I made change in daycares, schools, and in dealing with terror[ism]. “In the Knesset, I chair the committee that is rebuilding all of the legislation that has to do with Urban planning, especially pinui binui [evacuation and reconstruction]. In Jerusalem we have to build higher. Just today [last Wednesday] we passed legislation that mainly helps Jerusalem. Here, 30% of the people affected by this type of building are elderly. It can be very taxing on seniors, with little incentive to move out of a home and hope to move back in 10 years. The government used to force them out. We changed this, now we are using incentives. The contractor will now be exempt from taxes making it cost less and passing on the savings to the seniors. We accomplish the desired result with positives instead of negatives.”
She says the experience she gained in the city council and in the Knesset will all be used to benefit Jerusalem.
“I have dealt with financial technology. I know how to grow the economy.”
“In Jerusalem, we need to replan neighborhoods,” she says, “Kiryat Hayovel is going to expand tremendously it will be one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Israel. It came to my committee and we insisted that before they build, the city had to have a plan for public transportation. It is the first neighborhood to have a plan. When I am mayor, that is what I will do. Smart urban planning.”
What about the light rail?
“I think when people yell strongly about something, you have to listen. The municipality in Jerusalem was always willing to let the groups fight and yell and not get involved. I don’t agree with that. I think we need to sit down and try to work it out. I’ve done it with so many other issues and we can do it here too. A creative solution can be found.”
For Azaria, it seems, the experience she gained in the city council and in the Knesset was all in preparation to benefit Jerusalem. For all of its populations.
“Jerusalem is one city. I cannot imagine my beloved city with a wall through it.” Azaria says part of ruling Jerusalem is working on the Arab areas as well. “There are no offices in east Jerusalem. Hi tech people from east Jerusalem have told me that there is nowhere for them hold meetings. We need to build offices and build the city – all areas. And this I know how to do.
“Our party will have all kinds of people from all over Jerusalem – Yerushalmim!
“Jerusalem is the first city to deal with all of the issues in Israel. We know how to get this done. Enough division. This campaign needs to be about issues. Let the person who knows how to run the city win.”