Will Peretz return to be Sderot's mayor?

Peretz never left the city and he is still popular there.

amir peretz 2 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
amir peretz 2 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amir Peretz was elected mayor of Sderot in 1983 when he was only 30, initiating an era in which young Sephardi politicians took over development towns that had previously been led by elderly Ashkenazim. He was credited with energizing the city and spurring its economic development during his six-year tenure that ended in 1989 when a law was passed banning MKs from simultaneously serving as mayors. Peretz never left the city and he is still popular there, despite the heated demonstrations against him after the harshest Kassam rocket attacks when he was defense minister. After he was defeated in the Labor Party primary and forced out of the Defense Ministry by his successor, Ehud Barak, some suggested that Peretz should return to the Negev and serve as Sderot mayor again, following in the footsteps of another deposed Labor leader, Amram Mitzna, who left the Knesset to become mayor of Yeroham. In fact, Peretz did decide to run for mayor of Sderot in the November 11 municipal race, but the Peretz running is not Amir but his wife, Achlama. Achlama, 53, has served Sderot for many years in the fields of education and absorption. She was the Jewish Agency official in charge of education for Ethiopian immigrants in the town and has worked for many years in nearby Sapir College, where she runs its pre-college enrichment program. While Achlama made a point of staying out of politics for many years, when her husband ran for Labor leader, she managed his campaign in Sderot. Now that she is running herself, she hired her husband's former campaign team, but her closest adviser is Amir Peretz himself. Before key meetings or speeches, Achlama sometimes consults with her husband about what points to make. But their styles are very different and unlike the image of her husband, the articulate and educated Achlama does not need a megaphone to get her point across. Achlama said she decided to follow in her husband's footsteps and run, because she believes she can give its residents new hope that will prevent the exodus of people and factories from the town. "Good people often decide not to enter politics, because they don't want to dirty themselves, but I decided that it would be irresponsible to not offer the leadership that I have," Achlama said. "I know the price I will pay in my privacy. I could have continued my quiet life with my wonderful children, my nice house and my good job. But things aren't being run properly in Sderot, and the people here deserve to have a loyal emissary who can improve their lives." Achlama is running on a platform of enhancing the education, employment and culture in the city as well as its physical appearance. She said improving the security of the people in the rocket-barraged town was not on the list, because that was the job of the government in Jerusalem. "A mayor cannot stop Kassams," Achlama said. "There is no mayor who can bring security solutions. They can only give the people a feeling of security and a sense that there is someone in charge who really cares about them." The billboards in Sderot feature Achlama's face with the slogan "integrity, vision and soul." By contrast, the signs of her main competition, former Sderot mayor David Buskila, emphasize his experience and hint to her lack of it. Buskila served under Amir Peretz as the town's treasurer and then succeeded him as mayor. He boasts the support of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and other top Kadima officials. Another candidate is Alon Davidi, the man who led the demonstrations outside the Peretz home and the Prime Minister's Office calling for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Davidi, who is a religious Zionist, heads the Committee for a Secure Sderot and is close to parties on the Right. There are a few more announced candidates in the race who are considered less likely to win, including Bertha Koshensky, a representative of the Social Justice Party of Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak, who is popular in the city due to the free vacations in Eilat he provided to its residents who fled from the rocket attacks. But the two most formidable candidates may be the ones who are not running. Incumbent Mayor Eli Moyal has promised time and again that he would not seek reelection, but then again he also promised that he would quit the post, yet when he did quit, he took back his resignation before it took effect. The other unannounced candidate is one of the most well-known Sderot residents, former Likud defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai. A former candidate for prime minister, Mordechai's political career seemingly ended in 2000 when he was convicted of sexual misconduct. But Vice Premier Haim Ramon has proven that convicted sex offenders can stick around in Israeli politics and Sderot residents might be willing to forgive Mordechai for his sins to get a former major general who headed the IDF's Southern, Northern and Central Commands as their mayor. Mordechai could decide that serving as mayor would be a good way to clear his name and perhaps eventually allow him to return to national politics. So even though Amir Peretz decided not to run, Sderot could end up getting a former defense minister as its mayor after all.