Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai tweeted and wrote in a statement Sunday about the municipality’s plan to reopen cultural institutions in February through the use of a dedicated green passport that would allow vaccinated people access to venues, but health officials saw it as nothing more than political grandstanding.
Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri said in a letter to Culture Minister Chili Tropper that Huldai lacks the authority to take such a step. Tropper said, "I am happy for any additional public figure who chooses to miraculously raise the importance of culture, but it is better if it is not for electoral purposes but from a responsible and true perception. When it comes to statehood and health, I suggest everyone put populism aside."
Huldai announced last month that he was creating a new party called The Israelis that would be running in the March national elections and would continue to serve as Tel Aviv’s mayor even during the campaign. In his tweet, Huldai wrote: “At the beginning of February, I will open all the cultural institutions in Tel Aviv-Jaffa to anyone who has received two vaccines.
We will not wait for the government of Bibi-Gantz, which does not know how to manage anything. For us it is deeds and not talk. That’s how you really come back to life and not just engage in press conferences.”
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish said on Sunday morning, ”While the State of Israel is facing a rise in morbidity and is fighting for the lives of critically ill patients, Huldai continues with anarchy and populism. Huldai’s pathetic attempts to garner votes on the backs of Tel Aviv residents could endanger human lives.”
The Health Ministry released a statement saying, “Ron Huldai is practicing politics at the expense of public health. Ron Huldai’s abandoning [of responsibility], which began with the distribution of vaccines against the decision of the priority committee, consisting only of professionals, and continues with opening places dangerously, is scandalous and should be a warning light for every citizen.”
The Health Ministry statement refers to an incident in which the Tel Aviv Municipality, in conjunction with Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, gave nearly three thousand vaccinations to teachers earlier this month at a vaccination center in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Teaching staff had not yet been cleared to receive vaccinations, which were being given then to those over 60 and medical professionals, but the medical center and the municipality said that the thousands of vaccines were simply leftovers and needed to be used.
In a letter to the Culture Ministry outlining his plan last week, Huldai said that a special green passport could be created for entrance to cultural events such as concerts and theatrical performances, museums, sports, movie theaters and galleries in the coming weeks, even before the official government green passport is issued across the nation. This cultural passport could be issued for people about two weeks after they received their second vaccination.
Huldai said in a statement, ”The return of cultural institutions to activity is what is needed right now. This is necessary not only to save the industry workers from an economic collapse, but also to restore to tens of thousands of Israelis the right and opportunity to enjoy a vibrant cultural and artistic life. It is essential in light of the importance of culture for the existence of any democratic society. “
The Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality released a statement on Sunday afternoon that did not respond to the Health Ministry criticism but outlined some of the specifics of the plan. It said that in early February, Israelis who have had two doses of the vaccine would be able to attend cultural events. In the first phase, these performances would be held with a limited number of actors and musicians and everyone in the auditoriums, including the performers, would have to show they had been vaccinated twice. Every aspect of the event would accord with the “purple tag” rules for safe operation of public places. Museums would also be opened in accordance with these rules.
In the next stage, and as the vaccination campaign also progresses for young people, additional performances would be held. “The municipality strives to cooperate with the state, when it is clear to everyone that there is no epidemiological reason not to allow millions of vaccinated people to enjoy culture and provide a livelihood for tens of thousands” who have lost their income for nearly a year.
Said one woman who has worked in Tel Aviv’s cultural affairs for over two decades, “Is this plan political? Of course it is. Everything is political now. But Huldai would be doing this to try to get the city back to normal, even if he wasn’t running in the national elections. If people don’t push the government, it will take them another year to get around to opening the cultural sector.”