Mayoral candidate Harel: The liberal revolution can begin in Tel Aviv

Harel has three focus issues: the city’s priorities, its identity and transportation.

Tel Aviv mayoral candidate Assaf Harel in October 2018. (photo credit: YANAI YECHIELI)
Tel Aviv mayoral candidate Assaf Harel in October 2018.
(photo credit: YANAI YECHIELI)
Mayoral candidate Assaf Harel envisions a different Tel Aviv to the one that exists today: He dreams of a more principled city that prioritizes its residents, particularly the less privileged ones, and a city which acts as a beacon of democracy and liberalism for the rest of the country.
“I see Tel Aviv as the place where the liberal revolution can begin,” Harel told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, two days before the municipal elections. He is the leader of the We Are the City Party.
Responding to a social media post written on Saturday by Asaf Zamir’s number two, Zippi Brand Frank, which preemptively blamed Harel for Ron Huldai’s possible reelection, Harel said “That’s funny.”
“Whoever wants to be elected should run, but they shouldn’t start blaming other people,” he said.
Brand Frank, who pulled out of the mayoral race in order to merge with Huldai’s list, criticized Harel for refusing to do the same.
“I don’t see Asaf Zamir as an alternative,” Harel told the Post. “If there was one then there would be something to talk about. But he was Huldai’s right-hand man for 10 years and built himself up to be his heir. I’m not here to switch the old Huldai with the young Huldai... My problem is not on a personal level but with the strategy – with Huldaism.”
Harel has three focus issues: the city’s priorities, its identity and transportation.
He is not satisfied with Huldai’s approach to Tel Aviv, which in his perspective, treats the city as a place of entertainment, and focuses on tourists and businesses.
“I think the city needs to take much more interest in its residents, and to build more parks and complexes,” he said, asserting that the city caters too much to tourists and the rich. The plan to build towers on Kikar Atarim, he said, “is an example of a public space that’s supposed to serve us all but is being sold for tourism and for the rich. It’s a symptom of the problem.”
Referring to a battle waged by Kiryat Sefer residents for a park, Harel remarked: “Fortunately, the court was on our side, and today there are hundreds of families and children who use the park. But the municipality should be with us, and not with a contractor.”
South Tel Aviv and Jaffa are high on Harel’s list of priorities. “Those places scream of negligence and we need to seriously deal with them,” he asserted, noting that his number two, Amir Badran, and number three, Shula Keshet, are from those areas and understand how to address their problems.
“When I look at Israel, I think about the identity of Tel Aviv. Today, it treats itself as a city of entertainment... I think it should be the city that leads the democratic, liberal camp,” he said. He envisions a Tel Aviv that paves the way forward “in every place where Israel is stuck behind,” rather than waiting around for the government to do it.
He cites civil marriage, which doesn’t exist in Israel, as an example. If Tel Aviv City Hall were to permit civil-marriage ceremonies to be held in the municipality, Harel believes it would trigger a domino effect. Those marriages would first be recognized by municipal institutions, and then by educational institutions and banks. “That is how change starts – by someone who leads it and doesn’t say they are waiting for the government.”
Harel also wants to increase transportation on Shabbat and improve services for the city’s Arab residents.
“While the government legislates the Nation-State Law, Tel Aviv can say ‘No.’ Here, Arabic will remain a formal language, and all schools and kindergartens will teach Arabic. We don’t want to erase this population, they are part of us,” he remarked.
Harel believes that Tel Aviv needs a “transportation revolution,” and thinks he is the only candidate who can see this through. “Tel Aviv needs to move to the next level. We need a real change in the infrastructure,” he said, saying priority must be given to bikes rather than cars. “Everyone talks about it, but Huldai has talked about it for 20 years – and all the towers he builds begin with five floors of parking... You can’t talk about it when you’re doing something else.”
According to polls, Harel is the third most popular candidate after Huldai and Zamir, although he is skeptical about the polls’ accuracy. In any case, he expresses hope that Tel Avivians will not vote based on poll projections.
“In a democratic election you should vote for the candidate who represents you. It’s not right in a democracy to vote for a candidate you don’t believe in or whose views you don’t share,” Harel said. “That entirely misses the point, in my eyes. Vote for Huldai or Zamir if you believe in them, not because of other considerations – because then you could prevent the revolution that you want.”