The Tel Aviv mayoral elections initially appeared to be a one-horse race, but in two short months Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir has succeeded in tipping the scales, creeping up in the polls behind incumbent Mayor Ron Huldai.
A poll in August gave Zamir just 10% of the vote, as other potential candidates, notably MK Stav Shaffir, announced they would not run or pulled their candidacy. Tzipi Brand Frank even dropped out of the race to join forces with Zamir. But today, Zamir is the only person in Tel Aviv who stands a chance to unseat long-time Mayor Huldai. Still, according to last week’s polls, Huldai is leading by between five and seven percentage points.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
last week, Zamir expressed confidence that the winds were blowing in his favor, and that the Tel Aviv public is ready for change. Indeed, his campaign slogan is “The time has come.”
Every day, as Zamir’s team conducts a tireless campaign, the mayoral hopeful said he sees more and more people supporting him and “understanding from my history that I’m capable and it’s time. I’m sure we can win.
I’m sure we are on our way.”
Zamir became the youngest deputy mayor in Israel’s history when he took the post in 2008 at the age of 28. He is a co-founder and chairman of the Rov Ha’ir Party and has been responsible in the municipality for the fields of education, community and youth, and planning and building.
So what are some key aspects of Zamir’s platform? The Post discussed a wide range of topics with the candidate.
Having an American mother and having grown up in Florida, Zamir feels, have provided him with an understanding of the “soul” of new immigrants
and the challenges they face in moving to a new country, including tackling a new language and a different cultural mentality. “I have been dealing with olim issues over the past 10 years, and in the past few weeks hundreds have been joining our movement,” he said, noting that two of the candidates on his list are immigrants, French immigrant Eleonore Weil Sussholz and American immigrant Rachel Schonwald.
Under his leadership, Zamir said the municipality will invest more to help immigrants find jobs. In Israel, he remarks, as opposed to the US, the subject of jobs is not very prevalent, given the low rate of unemployment, but immigrants often struggle to find jobs and particularly ones in the careers they have experience in. “That mentally breaks people and that’s a big reason why people leave,” Zamir noted. He envisions partnerships with big businesses to increase immigrant employment, and a center for immigrants that would assist them both on a social level as well as with employment. “Tel Aviv talks about how many olim come, not about how many leave. They don’t hold themselves accountable,” he said.
Housing and transportation
“The population of the world is moving into cities... we’re redefining... quality of life from suburbia to inner city quality of life,” Zamir asserts, noting that only certain areas of the city are viewed as desirable, and this needs to be changed.
“I think the future of Tel Aviv lies in making what we call central Tel Aviv grander and wider. We could bring planning principles from central Tel Aviv to outside the center, the south, north, east and [to] cities around to create the same urban atmosphere,” he said.
Efficient public transportation is key to this idea to create effective connectivity, he said, shifting to another issue that is important to Tel Avivians. “We need to make it easier to get around the Dan metropolis without a car,” he continues, mentioning bus, light rail and trains as alternatives.
He also addresses the pressing issue of establishing proper bike lanes across the entire city. Currently where they exist, they are for the most part on the pavement. “I want them off the sidewalk,” Zamir declares. “And if that means I need to take away room from the private car, I will.”
Another change he sees as necessary, and which he vows to work hard to achieve, is for City Hall to be granted the authority to establish a Dan metropolis transportation authority – a company owned and run by all the cities in Gush Dan with Tel Aviv at the helm, as the largest city of Gush Dan – similar to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York.
This model, he noted, has been implemented before with other aspects, such as with sewage projects.
“I think Shabbat needs to be and feel like a day off, and for that reason the public transportation on Shabbat should be a very light version in comparison with other days. But it is still needed because if you want people to live in big city... you need to give an alternative,” Zamir stated.
He remarks that the people who are limited by a lack of transportation are those who don’t own cars. For both environmental and social reasons, he said, an alternative is needed. “You’re allowed to drive on Saturday in Israel, so the only people who are limited are people who don’t own cars. That’s not fair.”
Zamir seeks to create three shuttle lines from outside of the city to the city center that would run at a low frequency on Shabbat, “which will keep the day pleasant and quiet but will give people the opportunity to get from place to place without a car.”
Zamir said the reason this hasn’t happened yet is that the current municipal coalition includes Shas, and according to the coalition agreement, Huldai promised that he would not implement such a plan.
The Israeli government provides education between the ages of three through 18, and the Rov Ha’ir Party, which is now merged with the Simu Lev Horim (Take Notice Parents) Party seeks to fill that void for children under the age of three.
“Until your child is three, as a parent you’re on your own,” Zamir told the Post. “I think that should be a general municipal agenda.”
His plan includes: providing subsidized and supervised education for that age group; establishing a municipal department dedicated to education for that age bracket; increasing the amount of day care centers in the city via, for instance, the conversion of unused buildings and the allocation of land; and easing bureaucracy for private kindergartens while bringing them into the municipal supervision program.
“Tourism is a very big deal in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and potential for economic growth through tourism is something that can change the economics of the city, and it starts with every tourist feeling more at home,” Zamir said.
He mentions as a priority the need for more budget hotels. “Sleeping in Tel Aviv is very expensive. You have a lot of high-end options but not so many basic two- or three-star hotels in the city,” he observes.
Questioned about Airbnb, which has contributed to the lack of affordable housing in Tel Aviv, Zamir responds that he believes in shared economy and in the general idea of Airbnb, but not when apartments are used for it exclusively. He therefore supports the idea of increased regulation of such apartments. There’s a difference, he noted, between occasionally subletting one’s home and turning it into a permanent business.
Migrants and south Tel Aviv
South Tel Aviv lies at the heart of the national debate over the thousands of migrants living in Israel, described by some as asylum-seekers or refugees, and by others as illegal infiltrators. With many of the migrants living in neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv that are neglected and dilapidated, it’s up to the government to make a decision on the issue, he said. But since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a deal in April to deport some 16,000 migrants to Western countries, while granting a “suitable” legal status to some 16,000 others, only to swiftly cancel it, no comprehensive plan has been reached.
In July, the government did approve a plan to rehabilitate areas across the country with high densities of migrants, but that plan seeks to improve the lives of Israeli citizens living there and does not offer a solution to the situation of the migrants themselves. Millions of shekels pledged by the government and municipality are to be funneled into the rehabilitation of the relevant neighborhoods.
“We need to invest in making the quality of life as high as possible in south Tel Aviv in a much more dramatic way than has been done until now,” Zamir said, mentioning street lighting, security and public order as elements that must be improved.
Expressing a lack of faith that the government will do anything to solve the situation of the migrants, he said, “As long as they are here, for humane and strategic reasons, we need to take care of these people, because the higher the quality of their life will be, the easier it will be to live with them.”
The government until now, he said, has passed legislation aimed at making the lives of the migrants harder in the hope that they will leave the country voluntarily – but this strategy is not working.
According to Zamir, the municipality should be leading a proactive agenda to ensure the quality of life for everybody in Tel Aviv, bettering the educational system and giving all residents of the area equal access to quality education by establishing more schools and improving the ones that already exist.
The first part of Zamir’s plan involves forming a major governmental, municipal entity to run south Tel Aviv from south Tel Aviv, including authorities from the municipality dedicated to construction, city planning, enforcement, education and culture. Moving the Central Bus Station out of south Tel Aviv, according to an existing governmental plan, he added, is high on his list of priorities.
“There is no working relationship between the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Ministry of Transportation, because Ron Huldai and Israel Katz are not on speaking terms... and we are paying the price as residents for everything we need from the Ministry of Transportation,” Zamir said.
“A new broom sweeps clean. Sometimes change is an opportunity to start over and build trust that can otherwise never be rebuilt,” Zamir said: And of course, he believes he can be that broom.
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