Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai seemed to test the waters on national issues ahead of a possible run for Labor’s leadership Wednesday.
Speaking at his annual Rosh Hashanna toast, Huldai’s speech went beyond local Tel Aviv issues, touching on the Arab-Israeli conflict and international relations.
“The State of Israel has a great challenge,” he said. “Israel’s international standing has deteriorated. Our image in the media is not great. All [the world] sees in the media is soldiers and price tag. There is the BDS movement that wants to boycott us and our products.”
Huldai explained that for years, Tel Aviv was immune to much of the anti-Israel activity because of its “recognition in the world as a pluralistic and tolerant city,” but that things changed in recent years.
One example of this was a planned visit by Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan that was nearly thwarted by a motion from a far-left faction in his city council that sought to prevent him from visiting an “occupying state,” Huldai recounted. Members of the Tel Aviv city council went to Amsterdam and were able to convince them to change their votes, and van der Laan came to Tel Aviv for this week’s Innovation Week events.
Huldai also mentioned how for many years, popular “Tel Aviv Beach” events were held on the Danube in Vienna and the Seine in Paris, but this year there were major protests in Paris, turning it into an international news story.
“If Israel does not separate from the Palestinians, we will not be able to be part of the world,” he warned. “Even our free city of Tel Aviv cannot break free of the circle that is closing in.”
Earlier this year, Huldai admitted that he is considering a run for leader of the Labor Party. This week, he sent a letter to Labor members opposing changes to the planned date of the party primary – May 2016 – that party leader Isaac Herzog is considering, and saying that the party should return to its previous name and abandon its current Zionist Union moniker.
Referring to another issue that pitted Huldai and Herzog against each other, with several Labor MKs and Histadrut Labor Union chairman Avi Nissenkorn taking the latter’s side, the Tel Aviv Mayor railed against a bill by MK Yossi Yona (Zionist Union) that would grant differential funding of municipalities, meaning that the national government would contribute less to wealthier municipalities and more to poorer ones. The plan also support from mayors of poorer municipalities and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
“There are some people who say I’m not social-minded,” Huldai said pointedly. “They are trying to create fights between municipalities instead of paying for education, and I’m the one being blamed…It’s easy to attack Tel Aviv, because of our success.”
According to Huldai, the plan will not work because “taking from one pocket to another doesn’t help.”
Pointing to national budget issues, Huldai said the Finance Minister should not have cut taxes and used the intake for infrastructure and welfare.
Huldai also touched on another national issue, criticizing the government for not having a clearer immigration policy.
The mayor pointed out that 35,000 migrants from Africa live in Tel Aviv. He said that 1,000 children were born to migrants in the last year, and others are entering first grade, and there are “moral questions” to be answered about them being in the same schools as underprivileged Israelis living in the same areas as them.
“I am not making light of the problems of the people living in neighborhoods that were conquered by migrants, but the migrants are people too,” he said.
Also Wednesday, MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) announced that he will run for the position of chairman of the Jewish National Fund.
“The JNF must adapt itself at this time to Israel’s socioeconomic challenges,” he said. “I see myself as committed to take action and to begin this process on the behalf of the Zionist Union and according to its vision.”
MK Eitan Cabel (National Union) is also considering running for JNF chairman, but has yet to announce his decision.
If either becomes chairman, he will have to resign from the Knesset.