arieh azoulay 88.
(photo credit: )
Residents of the troubled Negev development town of Ofakim wanted a clone of former Labor chairman-turned-Yeroham mayor Amram Mitzna to help them overcome their seemingly never-ending financial woes.
Mitzna has been credited with turning around Yeroham and serving as a model for other Negev mayors.
Jewish Agency officials said they "got their Mitzna" last week when Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit appointed former Ashdod mayor Arieh Azoulay to serve as Ofakim mayor for a two-year rehabilitative period.
"He can do for Ofakim what Mitzna did for Yeroham," an Agency official said. "He is not a laid-back guy who can just sit back and enjoy his pension. He is a doer. He always has to be on the ball." Azoulay will be in charge of implementing a financial recovery plan.
He replaced Avi Asraf, whom Sheetrit fired two months ago for failing to manage his budget and for hiring and firing municipal workers in violation of regulations. Asraf appealed to the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the ministry's decision and reinstate him but the appeal was not expected to succeed.
"Stabilizing Ofakim and ensuring its success is an important mission to help the public," Sheetrit said. "I am convinced that Azoulay will do the job properly and contribute to the city from his vast experience in the public sector."
Azoulay was born in Fez, Morocco, in 1933, where he headed the Habonim Zionist youth movement before making aliya in 1955. He earned degrees in literature and history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked as an educator, culminating with a stint as a high school principal.
At the Jewish Agency, Azoulay filled several roles, including heading the Agency's delegations in Europe and Latin America, chairing its Immigration and Absorption Committee and serving as a member of its Board of Governors.
Azoulay, who is affiliated with Labor, served as vice chairman of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel and mayor of Ashdod from 1983 to 1989, where his accomplishments included forming the Ashdod Development Company and the Korin Maman Museum of Art.
Although they come from different political backgrounds, Azoulay has worked closely for decades with Sheetrit, who was also born in Morocco and served as both mayor of Yavneh and Jewish Agency treasurer.
Azoulay declined to comment, saying that he first wanted to start his new job and learn the ins and outs of the position. Agency officials who know him well were divided over whether he was the right fit for Ofakim.
"He is friendly, down to earth, hard-working and gets along well with people," an Agency official said. "He understands Israeli politics and municipal work. He laid the foundation for Ashdod to become a bustling metropolis on the Mediterranean. That was his dream and he made it come true."
But another official at the Agency questioned the appointment, saying that Azoulay never proved himself or stood out in the jobs he has held.
"Ofakim needed a Mitzna and I am sorry that it didn't get one," the official said.