Make national elections more local

In the campaigns for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem city halls, the voters have a clear choice.

MK Meir Porush 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
MK Meir Porush 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
All politics is local, Tip O'Neill, the liberal Democratic congressman and longstanding speaker of the House, once said. It's clear he didn't know much about the Israeli political system, where proportional representation ensures that sectoral, not regional or local issues, have the upper hand. Local issues again took the back seat last week as Ehud Barak's attack on Tzipi (or Tzipora as he prefers to call her) Livni caught the headlines, despite the fact that the more meaningful political development was the decision of Hadash MK Dov Henin to stand as a candidate in the Tel Aviv municipal elections. Hadash, the only Jewish-Arab party in the Knesset, might be best known for its very left-wing, pro-Palestinian standpoint, but it has also become one of the more impressive voices for the country's environmental movement, thanks to first-term MK Henin. The co-chair of the Knesset's socio-environmental caucus, Henin has a radically different vision for Tel Aviv than its current mayor, Ron Huldai. Over the past decade of Huldai's tenancy in city hall, huge tower blocks have sprung up over the city, providing attractive apartments for the wealthy but pushing the less-affluent out of the city. Henin, standing as the head of the Ir Lekulanu (A City for All of Us) list, intends to change this through massive public housing projects, in which municipal firms will buy buildings and then rent them out cheaply. All new developments, he pledges, will have to plan for a mixed-income neighborhood and not just another skyscraper for the wealthy. And fixing his sights on the traffic jams and air pollution for which Tel Aviv is infamous, Henin also promises to reduce Tel Avivians' reliance on their private cars by revolutionizing the city's public transportation system and making it far more accessible. Until Henin announced his candidacy, Huldai's status as Tel Aviv mayor seemed certain - he won 63 percent of the vote last time around. Suddenly, Huldai too is beginning to make noises about the need for more affordable housing in the city as he realizes that he might have a fight on his hands. What makes Henin's decision to run for mayor so refreshing is that unlike the ideological emptiness engulfing the candidates in the Kadima leadership election campaign, he has a clear and cohesive view of how things should be run and a proven track record, both in this present Knesset and as a past chairman of the umbrella environmental organization, Environment and Life, of implementing change. He represents a threat to the established order and provides Tel Avivians a real alternative in much the same way that Ken Livingstone in London challenged the consensus when he ran his first, successful mayoral campaign. SIMILARLY, IN Jerusalem, voters there will get a real choice following United Torah Judaism's decision to replace Uri Lupoliansky, the present mayor and a member of UTJ's Degel Hatorah faction, with Meir Porush, the representative of UTJ's hassidic Agudat Yisrael faction. For many, Lupoliansky was the smiling face of haredi Judaism and a politician who did not seek unnecessary conflict. His past record as the founder of the estimable Yad Sarah organization, which loans out medical equipment, wheelchairs and the like for free, made him popular among the secular public too, which also uses its services and for which Lupoliansky was rightly awarded the Israel Prize. Porush, with his long flowing beard and sharp tongue, is a different kettle of fish. He has a long career as a haredi politician, both on the local and national level, and sees his mission in life as representing, first and foremost, the (extremely) narrow interests of his particular constituents. With Porush as mayor, Jerusalem's gay pride parade, for example, is unlikely to pass by as peacefully as the last one. In the past, the secular residents of Jerusalem - a dying breed it has to be said - have accommodated the haredi political interests by simply not turning out to vote, leaving the political playing field open to the haredim. Now, faced with the prospect of a full-on haredi mayor - let's not forget it was pressure from Lupoliansky's haredi colleagues that forced the ridiculous Taliban-style clothes on the young dancers at the opening ceremony for Jerusalem's Bridge of Strings - these secular residents have a chance, possibly the last chance, to keep the city in the 21st century. That is providing they don't elect Arkadi Gaydamak, who has made no secret of the fact that his vision of Jerusalem is that of one big shtetl, with him playing the role of the gvir. But whatever the results of the municipal elections in November, the contribution of politicians such as Henin and Porush is that they are offering the electorate a clear choice: an economically left-wing, environmentally aware vision for Tel Aviv in Henin's case, or an uncompromising haredi worldview in Porush's, leaving the voters in no doubt as to what they are voting for or against. If only our national politicians, and first and foremost the candidates for Kadima's leadership, would follow these local politicians' example and provide the wider electorate with a clearer sense of the direction in which they want to lead. The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.