Unrepresentative democracy

"I believe that the 21st century will be the century in which senior citizens will step proudly out of the closet and get their rights."

dalia zomer 298.88 (photo credit: courtesy)
dalia zomer 298.88
(photo credit: courtesy)
Although City Hall is known for its peculiarities, this is perhaps one of the oddest things there: Some of the opposition benches are taken up by members of a political party that no longer exists, Shinui. There will also be no municipal Shinui list next year with the coming municipal elections. Dalia Zomer (rudely challenged by her peer, Boaz Atzmon, but still in control as head of the list) was born in Belgium and arrived in Israel in 1939. She is the most educated of the 31 members of the Jerusalem city council: Zomer holds a PhD in sociology from the Hebrew University and before that studied at Columbia University in New York. Before she became a city council member, Zomer was the chairwoman of the Shinui Party in the city, and, as she describes it, joining the campaign for the city council in 2003 was "a last minute and very unexpected decision." She is the first woman to head a city council list. Zomer is also one of the most active members of the city council - mostly as a volunteer: She is a member of the Society for the Promotion of the Rights of the Ill, chairwoman of Bamat Hamerkaz, a research institute for pedagogy, and vice chairman of the local branch of the women's network of the Liberal International, the world federation of liberal parties (where she has to explain time and again that her mayor doesn't shake her hand). She also heads the Committee on the Status of Women in the Welfare Ministry and is a member of the disciplinary court for civil servants. She is married, a mother of two and a grandmother of four. What did you have in mind when you started your election campaign, some four years ago? I knew my chances of being elected to the opposition were high. I thought then, and in a way I still think, that the role of the opposition is an important and honorable one in a democracy. In proper government the opposition is critical. Did you have a clear idea of what you were going to do once inside? Yes, I wanted to serve the non-represented. I wanted to advocate for those who have no voice, with no one to represent their case - women, people with disabilities, a field in which I already had extensive experience, senior citizens, users of public transportation, domesticated animals - especially cats, and trees. Why would you concentrate on these issues? Take, for example, public transportation. I use it a lot, so I know the situation and believe me, it deserves some advocacy. Or the trees in the city. I care about them, to see that they are preserved and not sacrificed out of negligence. And of course, the senior citizens. What about senior citizens? My philosophy is very liberal. I believe that we live in an era of freedom. Since the women's liberation movement, we have seen all kinds of communities obtaining their rights - homosexuals, blacks and other minorities. Even if there is still a lot to do, it has become at least 'politically correct' not to hurt these groups. Now it's time for the elderly community to make some strides. I believe that the 21st century will be the century in which senior citizens will step proudly out of the closet and get their rights. I want, as much as I can be in my position, to be a part of this process. Have you had any success so far with any of those agendas? I have learned that even when you sit on the opposition benches, if you have a good cause, and especially if you deal with an issue that can also serve the mayor's needs, you can win. For example, I believed that organizations that take care of abandoned cats or any pets should be supported by public funds. I took on the task and today Jerusalem is the first and perhaps the only city in Israel where such organizations are officially financed and supported by the municipality. This is definitely an achievement, but I am no fool: I know that it worked because this mayor understood right from the beginning that he could win points with the public by supporting such an action. But what do I care? I don't mind if [Mayor Uri] Lupolianski gets the 'credit,' as long as I know that the project continues. What are you going to do before and after the next elections? Your party doesn't even exist anymore. I know, I am aware of this gloomy reality. Are you planning to run in the next elections? Will you join another list? If we had a new promising list, with Bill Clinton at its head for example, I would join immediately of course. Well, the Clinton you have in mind seems busy somewhere else now. Perhaps you'd like to join [Nir] Barkat's list? I don't think so because Nir Barkat, whom I like and respect very much, despite his dedication to the city and his staying in opposition as promised, is too right wing for me. I wouldn't mind joining a real pluralistic list; I am a strong believer in a pluralistic society, including all citizens of this city, but he is really too far to the Right for me. Perhaps this is a totally theoretical issue, since most of the people who belong to your sector do not bother to vote anyway. It's true, and I am very concerned about it. But you know, we have to understand one basic thing: People won't vote if they feel they don't have anyone to vote for. Take what happened in France, for example. For decades the percentage of participation in the elections there was one of the lowest in the West. And then came two candidates who had some clear and attractive messages. The whole campaign there was on a high and dignified level, and look at the results: a level of participation we can only dream about here. As soon as we have candidates who will speak loud and clear and express ideas and positions and programs and propose some vision, instead of spin campaigns, we might see things moving differently. What is the issue that has outraged you the most in this municipality? Firing city attorney Yossi Havilio. This rude and continuing assault on the law and its representatives is unbearable to me. Any outstandingly good decision or act of this municipality? I can't think of any. Really, I try to recall something, but honestly, nothing of the sort has left an impression. There's a list of high-ranking officials leaving Kikar Safra recently, with the director-general at its head. Is it good or bad to replace people in the administration? I think it's bad. These people, chiefly Eitan Meir, did a good job here, and their departure is not a good sign. One could expect Meir's job vacancy to attract the best candidates, but in fact, the embarrassing low number of candidates reveals the real standing of this municipality in the eyes of the public. I think it's bad news. Have you learned anything new in the opposition? The task of the opposition is to check what's being done. But here we have no transparency, so I don't have the tools to verify everything. Therefore I always vote against, or at least, in some specific cases, abstain. I have never voted with this mayor.