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Tel Aviv's mayoral race: Time for a Mizrahi candidate

The Mizrahi Jewish community is Israel’s largest ethnic group, and its historic links to the Middle East, along with its class position make it a critical component in any revolutionary coalition. Thus, running a Mizrahi candidate will be a clear sign to the residents of south Tel Aviv that they are a central priority.

By Matan Kaminer

MK Nitzan Horowitz. Horowitz recently announced his candidacy for mayor of Tel Aviv. (Jstreet CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Although municipal political party Ir LeKulanu is not considered “left” in Israeli terms, it embodies one of the greatest successes of the non-Zionist left in Israeli history. In national elections, the non-Zionist or “radical” left keeps slamming into the brick wall of privileges enjoyed by Israel’s Jewish citizens, including not only Mizrahi, Ethiopian and Russian citizens (whose Jewishness is the only thing separating them from the socio-economic abyss), but also the “liberal” Ashkenazi middle class.

However, the municipal arena is a bit different. Since most decisions pertaining to the state’s Jewish and colonial character are not made at the municipal level, it is possible to envision an alliance between victims of urban capitalism in the face of disagreement over so-called “national-political” issues. Under the aegis of Ir LeKulanu (“City for All”), radical activists whose opposition to Zionism is well known have been able to join forces not only with young middle-class people from the city center but also with an active, vocal group of south Tel Aviv residents. (At the same time, the movement has been only partially successful in connecting to the Palestinian residents of Jaffa, whose “Yafa” party ran separately but supported Ir LeKulanu mayoral candidate Dov Khenin.)

Five years have since passed over Tel Aviv-Jaffa, bringing with them two wars on Gaza, one Arab Spring and one wave of social protest which momentarily shook Israeli society. The party’s many members who expected it to develop into a full-fledged popular movement were disappointed. But Ir LeKulanu’s very survival under the bitter attacks it faced from the municipal opposition is not to be taken for granted – and most of the credit for this perseverance goes to the movement’s indefatigable council members.

About two weeks ago, Khenin announced that he would not be running for mayor again, opening a debate on the desirability of running a candidate from the party, especially in the wake of Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz announcing his candidacy. Some say that all oppositional forces must be united for the overarching goal of defeating incumbent mayor Ron Huldai. But insufferable as he may be, Huldai is only the representative of an urban alliance which is bigger than him. The two wings of this alliance are the affluent, mostly Ashkenazi residents of the northern neighborhoods who enjoy the fruits of Huldai’s reign, and the capitalists reaping profits from the transformation of the city center from a living residential area into a glitzy playground of real estate speculation.

Horowitz is far from challenging this alliance. In a mass e-mail he sent out to declare his candidacy, Jaffa is never mentioned, and the city’s south is barely paid lip service. Praise for former mayors, on the other hand, is abundant, with especially warm words for the incumbent, under whom Horowitz’s party has served loyally for four of the current administration’s five years. Whether or not it is efficacious for him, this tactic sends a clear signal to the oppressed groups in the city – Palestinians, refugees and migrants and Mizrahi residents of the south – that Horowitz is signalling his utter indifference to them.

This is the time for Ir LeKulanu to hoist another flag, differentiating itself from both Huldai and his little brother Horowitz. It is going to be a turbulent summer, with great turmoil over the austerity measures about to be unleashed by the government. Now is the time to catalyze urban energies around an alternative pole. In a sense, Khenin’s decision is advantageous, as it enables Ir LeKulanu to make a clear statement by choosing a Mizrahi from the city’s south to be its candidate for mayor. Such a choice would not be forced or artificial, since the movement has included a lively contingent of south Tel Aviv activists from its inception. Among these are two of the movement’s most outstanding city council members, Yael Ben-Yefet and Aharon Maduel, as well as many others. Yet candidacy is not just a matter of personal excellence, but of what the candidate symbolizes. Running a candidate will be a clear sign to the residents of the south that they are a central priority for the movement, and that their presence within it is desired.

The Mizrahi Jewish community is Israel’s largest ethnic group. Its historic links to the culture of the Middle East and its class position make it a critical component in any revolutionary coalition imaginable in Israel. When even far more privileged groups are unwilling to reject Zionist identifications at the national level, it is neither fair nor realistic to expect Mizrahis to be the first to do so. But for this very reason, at this critical junction, the radical leftists who form an important component of Ir LeKulanu should not pass up the opportunity to throw their weight behind a Mizrahi urban leadership in coalition with Palestinians, Ashkenazis, refugees and migrants. The way to do so is clear: to fight with determination in support of a south Tel Aviv candidate for mayor.

Matan Kaminer is active in Ir LeKulanu. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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    1. directrob

      Time for a Palestinian.

      Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      You mean an Israeli Arab since Palestinians are citizens of the Palestinian Authority and are not qualified to run in Israeli elections. Palestinian is both the name of a geographical entity, which Jews call Eretz Israel, and “Palestine” is the name of a geo-political entity. Anyone who lives in the geographical entity called Palestine is a Palestinian, and that includes Jews like us.

      Actually, every gov’t, even those of the Right, should have at least one Arab cabinet member. They are 20% of the population and I don’t believe that it is good for them to feel disenfranchised, even if they have problems recognizing the legitimacy of the Zionist state. In any event, they are taxpayers and they should feel that their day-to-day interests are being looked after, and it seems that their Knesset Members are more interested in rabble-rousing than in real representation.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Edo Konrad

      “You mean an Israeli Arab since Palestinians are citizens of the Palestinian Authority and are not qualified to run in Israeli elections. Palestinian is both the name of a geographical entity, which Jews call Eretz Israel, and “Palestine” is the name of a geo-political entity. Anyone who lives in the geographical entity called Palestine is a Palestinian, and that includes Jews like us.”

      Conclusion: Arab Israelis aren’t Palestinians but Israeli Jews are. Okay.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        You didn’t read my comment closely enough. I said ANYONE who lives in Palestine is a “Palestinian”. This obviously includes Arabs. If you are referring to residents of the geographical entity called “Palestine”, of course they are Palestinians. This includes both Jews and Arabs. If you use “Palestinian” to mean a citizen of the Palestinian Authority, as most people do, then this can’t mean Israeli Arabs. There are Jews who are citizens of the Palestinian Authority, I believe Daniel Barenboim is this, so that also does not strictly mean “Arab” in that context, either.
        It is the “progressives” who twist themselves into knots claiming that Palestinian Arabs are NOT “Arabs”, but Jews whose origins are in Arab countries ARE “Arabs”.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      Hilarious! For the purposes of creating a common non-ethnic front let’s find an ethnic candidate to run! Yeay! What bleeping difference does it make if your candidate is Ashkenazi or Mizrahi or an Arab if you are running on the basis of ideas? Yeah… let’s choose a candidate on the basis of their ethnic background. That’s the way towards a future free of any ethnic preferences. Is this how logic works in your part of the political map? Brilliant!

      Reply to Comment
      • directrob

        Of course you are right, at the same time if “Palestinians of Israeli nationality” (you may read Arabs) and “Mizrahi” have significantly less chance to get elected it shows something is wrong that should be corrected.

        Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        It is interesting how it seems many “progressives” are obsessed with race and ethnicity. When Ran Cohen was defeated in the race to be head of MERETZ some years ago, he said he lost because he was of Iraqi origin and MERETZ is about as “universalist and anti-ethnocentric” as you can get. At a recent meeting of the Labor Party, supporters of SHelly yelled at opponents tha tthey were “arsim” which is an uncomplimentary term for Edot haMizrach. When Amir Peretz beat Peres for the leadership of the Labor Party, Peres’ brother went on TV and said Peretz and his people were like Franco’s Falangists who flew out of Africa and atttaced the Spanish Republic. Old prejudices apparently die hard among “progressives”.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          In Israel it is even worse because the ‘progressives’ see the cracking of Israeli society into warring ethnic/religious components as being an end-goal in and of itself.

          Reply to Comment

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