Grapevine: Local races heat up

It's religion rather than ethnicity which is at the crux of the municipal elections in Nazareth,

MK Haneen Zoabi  370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
MK Haneen Zoabi 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
IT’S NOT unknown for members of the same family to be on different sides of the political fence. Nesher Mayor David Amar, who has held the position for almost quarter of a century, does not have the full support of his family in the October 22 municipal elections. His brother, Mashiach, is running against him and throughout the campaign, the two have stopped speaking to each other – though each has told reporters they expect to remedy the situation after elections.
David Amar is facing an indictment for violating the terms of a building permit. He had been granted the permit for a house of a specific size, but built one twice as big and then tried to have the permit amended retroactively.
Amar is not the longest-serving mayor in Israel. That honor belongs to Yitzhak Yemini of Pardesiya, who has been in office for 41 years and is still going strong. Not too far behind is Shlomo Buhbut, the mayor of Ma’alot- Tarshiha, who has ruled the municipality for 37 years; Buhbut is also head of the Union of Local Authorities. Next in the line of mayoral longevity is Sammy Bar-Lev of Katzrin, who has been in office for 33 years. After that, there are several mayors in addition to David Amar who have thus far had a 24-year stint.
NOT ONLY siblings engage in political squabbles. There are also differences between parents and their offspring, though not necessarily on purely political issues. A case in point, as reported last week by Yediot Aharonot, is the attempt by retired university lecturer Arieh Itzhaki to prevent his daughter Meital Itzhaki-Toledano, a lawyer by profession, from being elected to the Kfar Yona Municipal Council. The father sent a letter to Kfar Yona residents, stating his daughter was not trustworthy.
There has been no contact between father and daughter for 16 years.
Itzhaki has a history of indulging in melodrama, and during the evacuation from Gaza, armed with an M-16, locked himself in his Kfar Yam home and threatened to shoot any policeman or soldier who came near him. Ultimately, a compromise was reached whereby he would not be charged with any crime if he surrendered his weapon.
Itzhaki-Toledano told Yediot’s Eitan Glickman she wasn’t surprised that her father had tried to torpedo her chances. She knows her father’s character, she said, and she pities him – but not enough to desist from taking legal action against him for defamation.
A LEOPARD may not be able to change its spots, but political activists can change their stripes. Dan Lahat, who is a member of the Tel Aviv Municipal Council and the son of legendary mayor Shlomo Lahat, who served for 20 years, came in on the Green ticket, but is currently running at the head of the Yesh Atid list. He’s not saying whether he will run for mayor the next time around, but friends predict that he might. Lahat is married to Ronit Reichman, the daughter of Uriel Reichman, the founding president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. The father of five children, he was previously married for 18 years to Ofra Strauss, who heads the Strauss Group.
In Dimona, the upcoming municipal elections have once again let loose the ethnic demon from the bottle. Up until the Knesset elections, the mayor of Dimona was Meir Cohen, who is now social services minister. His deputy, Eli Bronstein, took over when Cohen, who had been mayor for almost a decade, joined Yesh Atid and was placed on the party’s Knesset list. Bronstein is now aiming to be mayor for the next five years. His opponent is council member Benny Biton, who has run for mayor three times and failed; in 1993, Biton was deputy mayor to the late Gabi Lalush.
IT’S RELIGION rather than ethnicity which is at the crux of the municipal elections in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, where Muslims and Christians have lived for generations. For Christians worldwide, Nazareth, where Jesus lived, is a place of pilgrimage. Until 1983, Nazareth was largely Christian, but since the mid-1970s, it has gradually developed a Muslim majority, and today more than 70 percent of its residents are Muslim.
Yet for all that, residents have elected a Christian mayor in the last four consecutive elections. Ramiz Jaraisy, the man who has been leading Nazareth for such a long time, had planned not to run again this year, but was persuaded to change his mind when Balad MK Haneen Zoabi announced her intention to run for the post.
Zoabi is Muslim; if she wins, she will have to resign from the Knesset.
Muslim fundamentalists who believe that a woman should not hold public office are unlikely to vote for her, but more liberal Muslims see her in a heroic light, which makes the Nazareth elections even more interesting than those in Jerusalem.