One woman in the arena

Having left the race, Rachel Azaria clarifies her point of view

Rachel Azaria: ‘I acted out of my responsibility for Jerusalem.’ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Rachel Azaria: ‘I acted out of my responsibility for Jerusalem.’
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A week after she officially dropped out of the race for mayor, MK Rachel Azaria sounds perhaps a bit relieved, but one discerns a hint of sadness in her voice. Azaria entered the race for mayor relatively late and was the second to quit (a week after Yossi Havilio withdrew and joined forces with Ofer Berkovitch), but she says that the storm is far from calming down.
Some 10 years ago, in the framework of a movement of awakening in the non-haredi sector of the city, Azaria and a group of residents championing pluralism in the city emerged on the local scene, representing a desire for change. They called themselves Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) and raised local issues from a point of view different from that which Jerusalemites were used to.
They were not alone. A group of young adults, many of them still students (in contrast, most Yerushalmim members were and still are young families) had formed a movement focusing on the 2005 elections, insisting that it was time to challenge the belief that nothing could change in politics. Prominent activists included Ofer Berkovitch and Meirav Cohen (who left the movement and politics), surrounded by a growing corps of young Jerusalemites. They worked hard to convince young adults and families to stay in Jerusalem and fight for a better future in the city.
This effort contributed to Nir Barkat’s victory.
Many in the two groups – Hitorerut and Yerushalmim – sought from the beginning to unite and run together for council seats, but more than 10 years later, they are further apart than ever. The position of mayor of Jerusalem is being contested by six serious candidates and a haredi mayor may emerge victorious, something that neither of these two groups desire. What began as a fear of losing their own specific voice in a merger turned into a competitive rivalry.
Azaria says that she decided to refrain from interviews with the press once she stepped out of the race, but she agreed to speak with In Jerusalem to clarify her viewpoint.
Of the stormy reaction that greeted her decision to leave the Knesset and run for mayor, Azaria says that she felt from the beginning that her candidacy was not regarded as legitimate.
“Not only did I have to fight for the right to run as an equal among the candidates, but the anger and storm didn’t diminish even after I announced my decision not to run. So here I am, I’m not running anymore, yet the anger and the rumors are still rampant! My capacities were known and clear to all; the question was not whether I am capable or not – that was not questioned – nor was it a major issue that I was the first and only woman to run for mayor.”
These issues were not the impetus for her decision to run – or to quit the race. Her moves were guided primarily by her realization that there was no way Berkovitch was going to facilitate an alliance. She felt she had to do something for the city and to help her own party’s resilience. She understood that a major issue at stake was to block a candidate who was in the hands of the haredim.
“I decided to run for that reason.”
Once she realized that her chances of winning were slim, her primary concern was to help Yerushalmim to continue to run. She turned to the only candidate who she felt would fulfill that task.
“Joining Berkovitch and Hitorerut was the right thing to do from a PR standpoint, but I wanted to do the right thing for Jerusalem, and it was clear to me that the only candidate who could deliver is [Ze’ev] Elkin. I chose to join him because he is the only one who can save Jerusalem from falling into the hands of the haredim.”
Azaria says that it was not an easy decision.
“Of course, regarding issues and views, we are much more aligned with Yerushalmim and Hitorerut, despite some significant differences; we are not twin movements. But I acted out of responsibility for Jerusalem; my fear is that we might wake up the morning after the elections with a mayor controlled by the haredim.
“The numbers in Jerusalem don’t give Berkovitch a strong chance of winning – either in the first round or in the second. Therefore our decision in Yerushalmim was to make sure that the candidate that is elected, even if we don’t agree on everything (and we don’t agree!) is not in the hands of the haredim. We decided to back the only candidate who answers our criteria.”