Sderot mayor suspends himself indefinitely

Police investigating Moyal on suspicion of tampering with rocket-shield contracts.

eli moyal 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
eli moyal 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After chain-smoking his way through six years of rocket attacks against his southern city of Sderot, Likud Mayor Eli Moyal dropped a bombshell of his own when he announced Tuesday that he was taking a leave of absence until completion of the police investigation against him. In the interim, his seat is being filled by his deputy, Oren Malka of Shas. "I cannot run a city that is in danger while the media is calling me a criminal," Moyal told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Moyal's decision came a day after police publicly launched an investigation against him to explore allegations of administrative irregularities, including awarding expensive contracts to cronies. On Monday morning, detectives searched Sderot City Hall. As investigators combed through his office, Moyal worked out of his living room, where he dealt with the impact of seven Kassam attacks. In between helping parents organize a high school strike and a protest in Jerusalem, he assured friends and supporters that his work could continue as usual in light of his innocence. But as the day wore on, he found it increasingly hard to conduct business. "I decided that there would be a strike in the high school. Then I heard the journalists say that 'it is a spin,'" said Moyal. "It's an impossible situation," he added. "I'm a human being." He contended that the media had convicted him before the investigation had advanced. He said that he had not even spoken yet with the police. "I never touched public money in my life, but the public believes that I am a thief," said Moyal, adding, "I want the police to do their job quickly." In the interim, he said, he believed it was fitting that he take a leave from office so the city government could focus its energies eliminating Kassams. There are only two possibilities here, he said: "If the police find me guilty, I should not be mayor. If they find I am innocent, then I return to my job and I will have been a mayor who was away for awhile." A native of Sderot, Moyal was elected mayor in 1999. He was the first Likud member to hold that position, and in the 2003 elections, he was the only incumbent Likud mayor in the South to hold onto his seat. In 2005, he turned down an offer by then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom to be ambassador to Paris. For the last six years, since a Kassam first fell outside his home, the tall, colorful mayor has been the face of Sderot to the international world. From Hollywood stars to world leaders, he has shown visiting dignitaries the city's stockpiles of rocket bits and argued that the only solution is for the government to head into Gaza and stomp out the rocket launchers once and for all. His office has been the kind of place where people could walk in and scream. Once, after watching Moyal sit calmly as dozens of residents yelled about safety needs, a visitor leaned over and whispered to him, "I wouldn't want your job for a million dollars." Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.