Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Sunday on the newly elected mayor of Haifa, Mrs. Einat Kalisch-Rotem, to reverse her plan to appoint a deputy who has voiced support for Hamas and Hezbollah, backed BDS and claimed Zionism inspired the creation of the Islamic State terror group.
At the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: “This morning before the meeting I sought Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch to request that she cancel the appointment of a deputy mayor who supports Hamas and Hezbollah, which have declare their intention to destroy the State of Israel. I hope that she will agree.
“I am pleased that our colleague [Interior Minister] Aryeh Deri has already begun to deal with the matter and I know that many others have also expressed their views. This is unacceptable; therefore, I am convinced that it will not happen.”
The ministry’s legal adviser said that Za’atara denied some of the claims made about him, and Rabbi Deri subsequently ordered a probe to determine the facts.
Following that probe, he will ask Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to rule whether he has the authority to block Za’atara’s state salary if he is appointed deputy mayor.
Sources close to Kalisch-Rotem said she had refused Netanyahu’s request during the phone call, that she had no intention to renege on her coalition agreement with Za’atara’s party. She also noted that he is only slated to become deputy mayor in two and a half years.
Public outrage erupted last week as reports came out of the upcoming appointment in Haifa of council member Raja Za’atra, a member of the Communist Party of Israel which has been criticized by many in recent years for supporting dictator Bashar Assad’s regime and its allies in the Syrian civil war.
Za’atara himself fired back at Netanyahu and Deri.
“I am not a member of Hamas or Hezbollah, but of the Communist Party of Israel and Hadash which support peace, equality and fraternity between nations,” he said in a statement. “Netanyahu and his corrupt government are trying to divert public attention.”
The real danger to the Israeli nation isn’t in the Haifa council, but at No. 10 Balfour Street in Jerusalem,” Za’atara added, referring to the address of the Prime Minister’s Office. “When I’m deputy, it is plausible that Netanyahu and Deri will already be in prison,” he was quoted by The Times of Israel as saying.
Za’atara received backing from rormer Meretz chairwoman Zahava Galon on Sunday evening: “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand that the mayor of Haifa not appoint Raja Za’atara to be her deputy is yet another stage in his use of hatred of the Arabs as a political card. He is fanning the fire and riding on it without caring who will be harmed and who will burn, Jews and Arabs.”