Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the most prominent of a growing list of far-right Israeli political figures calling for rescinding the appointment of Communist Raja Zaatry as deputy major of Haifa. On Sunday, December 9, Netanyahu said that he had asked newly elected Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem to cancel the appointment of a deputy mayor “who supports Hezbollah and Hamas, organizations that declare their wish to destroy the State of Israel. I hope this request will be answered, and I am happy that [Interior Minister] Aryeh Deri began his involvement on this matter.” Nevertheless, Kalisch-Rotem has refused heed to Netanyahu’s request.
“I am neither a member of Hezbollah nor Hamas, but of the Communist Party of Israel and its Hadash front, which advocate peace, equality and fraternity between peoples. The real danger to Israel is not to be found at the Haifa municipality, but at 10 Balfour Street [the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem]. By the time I become deputy mayor, Netanyahu and Deri will probably be in prison,” said Zaatry in response. Recently, Israel Police recommended indicting Netanyahu and Deri on bribery, fraud and breach of public trust charges.
“Raja Zaatry, a member of the Haifa city council, has expressed support for Hezbollah and Hamas, has supported boycotts of Israel and action against Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Such a person cannot be named as a deputy mayor as Haifa’s mayor seeks to do,” Shas leader and Interior Minister Deri tweeted. Speaking to Israel’s 103FM, Zaatry also responded to Deri’s calls to block his appointment: “I was democratically elected to the Haifa City Council. I will represent the Arab and Jewish residents of the city in order for them to live with dignity, true partnership, social justice, and clean hands.”
“Only my voters and constituents can judge my actions. I intend to represent them and work for them, with or without pay,” Zaatry said, referencing a law, which stipulates that budgeting the salary for a fifth deputy mayor of a municipality is subject to the approval of the interior ministry.
The protests against Zaatry’s appointment began at the initiative of the fascist group Im Tirtzu. Right-wing lawmakers have also spoken out against his appointment. Likud MK Yoav Kish asked Deri to intervene and “opposition” Yesh Atid chair MK Yair Lapid has also come out against Zaatry’s appointment. He called on the Zionist Union, the party to which Haifa’s new mayor Kalisch Rotem belongs, to call on her to cancel the agreement “that links them to the worst of Israel’s haters.”
Zaatara told Haaretz that Likud and Shas were left out of the city’s coalition and were now competing over which could be more right wing. “I understand there are people I bother a little. I wasn’t elected just in order to pat anyone on the back, I was elected in order to serve my voters,” he said. Zaatry said the city has established two new organizations, one that would further Jewish-Arab equality, which Zaatry heads, and an authority for greater coexistence which the mayor will lead. As part of Haifa’s new coalition agreement, Zaatry – as part of a rotation agreement with Meretz – is to serve two-and-a-half years as a deputy mayor of Haifa.