Ra’anana Mayor Eitan Ginzburg, Israel’s first openly gay mayor, has faced a homophobic campaign aimed at sowing fear among the religious and traditional populations of the city about his potential reelection, he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The campaign, which he described as sophisticated, took the form of a fake Facebook page named “Free Ra’anana,” which published seemingly pro-LGBTQ posts. In one post, the users of the Facebook page superimposed a photo of Ginzburg onto a picture of an LGBTQ Pride Parade and wrote: “Our mayor is one of us! As someone who is one of us, we are hoping and waiting to celebrate with him the pride parade – on floats, in the streets, at parties, life. Ra’anana is on its way to being free!”
The “Free Ra’anana” page has since been closed.
Anyone familiar with the LGBTQ community, Ginzburg said, would immediately know that the messages put out by the Facebook group did not emanate from the community itself.
“It’s not the language used by them or the issues that are important to them, but it used messages that bother certain communities,” Ginzburg told the Post. “In Ra’anana there is a status quo where the religious and secular live together and everything is okay. And they tried, targeting the religious community, to use a homophobic campaign to scare them.”
Ginzburg, who heads the Lev municipal party list, explained that those who led the campaign used marketing techniques to direct the campaign at religious Facebook users.
The mayor’s team believes that another mayoral candidate is behind the campaign, and filed a complaint with the police.
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“Anyone who knows me knows that I am everyone’s mayor, and I respect everyone. It doesn’t matter what you are or who you are, my job is to provide services to all of the population. I first and foremost am the mayor of Ra’anana,” he stressed.
“Both secular and religious residents receive me very well and know that I conduct my work professionally and take care of everybody: the religious, the secular and the traditional. I am here to advance Ra’anana and take it to the next era.” Ginzburg, age 41, pointed out that in many other Israeli cities and around the world, young candidates of similar ages are vying to be leaders.
Mentioning Tel Aviv candidate Asaf Zamir and Jerusalem candidate Ofer Berkowitz, Ginzburg said “our generation is taking a step forward to [be] the next leadership. And it starts with local leadership in Israel... I think people understand that the time has come for the next generation.”
THIS ERA, he said, accepts everyone who is in it – all of society. “So it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m gay, I am going to serve the residents of Ra’anana in the best possible way so that this city will continue to advance and be one of the best cities in Israel,” he affirms, mentioning education, employment, renovation of parts of the city and clean streets as aspects of that. “First and foremost I wave the orange and green flag of Ra’anana.”
Ginzburg has been on the Ra’anana City Council for over 15 years, including six years as a paid deputy mayor. He was elected by the city council to take over as mayor when veteran Ra’anana mayor Ze’ev Bielski left to head the National Housing Authority in March.
Items on his platform include the transformation of Ra’anana’s central boulevard, Ahuza, whose deterioration has been a major focus point of the election dialogue. Ginzburg seeks to renovate the main drag’s sidewalks, façades and storefronts in cooperation with the business owners there. He plans to pave a bicycle path along the entire street, and connect it to cross streets that enter the neighborhoods.
Other plans include: creating 1,000 underground parking spots; converting the historic Municipality Compound, called Lev HaMoshava, into an area for conservation with restaurants, cafes, galleries and a museum, in the style of Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market; constructing a new theater; and concentrating all municipal services in a new urban zone – “Kikar HaIr” (City Square).
As a veteran immigrant who moved to Israel from Argentina when he was baby, Ginzburg feels that he can identify with Ra’anana’s immigrant community. Though he was too young to remember the move, his family experienced all the usual challenges faced by new immigrants in Israel. As of 2017, 18% of Ra’anana’s population are new immigrants, Ginzburg notes.
“Every month we absorb olim and we have a lot of services for them,” he says, noting that there is a special focus on helping immigrant children integrate in their schools.
Ginzburg seeks to improve the accessibility of information available to new immigrants by translating information and providing services in English, French, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian and Spanish.
He also strives to provide more assistance for young adult olim to enter the job market.Ra’anana
, he said, is not recognized as an absorption city even though it is one, and thus he aims to garner more resources from the government for that sector.
GINZBURG HAS no plans for the LGBTQ community in particular. He noted that for many years the municipality has promoted the Month for Pride and Tolerance, collaborating with LGBTQ organizations to run events, meetings and dialogue between different communities “in a way that talks about the issue and respects others.”
The pride parade, he said, has become a symbol. “I am not ashamed of who I am. I live my life, I established a family and we are received very nicely,” he continued, noting that he had been invited to read from the Torah at synagogues. On the other hand, he admits that there was also an incident in Ra’anana in which a letter was penned in an attempt to stop him being allowed entry into a synagogue. Some people, he explained, “try to ride this ticket,” but the general public of Ra’anana is, in his eyes, pluralistic, liberal and accepting.
The LGBTQ community, he said, wants to be treated as equals, and the municipality’s job is not to discriminate against anyone. Thus it enables forums that support youth coming out of the closet or their parents, for instance, just as it supports other sectors “to allow a high quality of life for all residents of the city.”
Ginzburg is competing against five candidates: Nir Kristal (Ra’anaim), Ronit Weintraub (Meretz), Yaki Vadmani (Ra’anana MiKol HaLev), Raheli Ben-Ari Skaat (Hatnua HaHevratit) and Chaim Broyde.
A recent poll conducted by pollster Mina Tzemach, sponsored by Ginzburg, found that the contest is between the two front-runners: Ginzburg who led the poll with 35.3% of the votes, and Broyde, who followed with 31.2%.
Asked what he plans to do if he doesn’t win, Ginzburg responded: “I am leading according the polls... and I intend to be the mayor of Ra’anana for the next five years.”
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