Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Veteran mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai on Saturday heralded his city as an exemplar of pluralism in Israel and claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was troubled by the idea of democracy.
"The idea of and principle of democracy troubles Bibi [Netanyahu], and he fortifies his regime to prevent the public from interfering. Look at the number of ministerial portfolios that he holds and the newspaper Yisrael Hayom that acts as his mouthpiece," Huldai charged.
Huldai, speaking at a cultural event in Tel Aviv, referred to Turkish President Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's storming of opposition newspaper Zaman
on Friday in Istanbul, saying "we are not yet at that point" but he added that the "buds" of such a phenomenon were present in Israel.
"Erdogan is using democratic tools to transform Turkey into a state governed by Sharia Law. We need to be alive to this [possibility] and do all that we can to prevent us from also deteriorating," the mayor said.
Huldai queried whether some Israelis would emigrate from Israel if the state were to become a halachic one, meaning governed by Jewish Law.
"Everyone here now would stay?" There will be a committee of rabbis ordering the prime minister what to do. In that case, I believe not everyone would remain," he said.
On the one hand, the mayor warned about Israel becoming a halachic state (run by Jewish law), but on the other, he said he saw "changes occurring in Israeli society such as increased haredi participation in the workforce and an improvement in the status of haredi women."
On the Palestinian issue, Huldai said If Israel wants to be "viewed as a democracy with a Jewish character it must reach agreement with the Palestinians."
"I am not prepared to allow the Palestinians to determine my fate and turn the State of Israel into a bi-national state, and so I would make the following trust building moves to make this intention clear: the creation of a sea port in Gaza, the strengthening of the Palestinian economy and making improvements to their lives, and the freezing of building beyond the Green Line," Huldai offered.
The mayor said Israel would not succeed in being perceived as a democracy as long as it rules over another people.
Huldai did not deny that he would one day enter national politics but he said something very special would have to happen for him to do so and he would not make the move at any cost. 'Tel Aviv is Israel as we hoped it would turn out'
Huldai brushed aside some people's characterization of Tel Aviv as a "bubble," a term used to describe a state of insularity and aloofness from the rest of Israel.
"People really want to live in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, including couples with children. Around one million non-residents visit here daily. People try to describe the city in all kinds of strange ways that are just false factually."
"This city is the engine, the heart of democracy and the stronghold of pluralism, science and research, culture and art, and it is a home to every minority. This is the State of Israel as we hoped it would turn out. This is how the State of Israel should be today, as part of modern world," he said.
Huldai noted that Tel Aviv built dormitories for foreign migrants when they were invisible to the state and that 50 percent of Israel's homeless, some 450 people, live in the city.
Huldai has been mayor of Tel Aviv for 17 years.