Controversial Haifa Deputy Minister Steps Down

YERUSHALAYIM -

A newly appointed deputy mayor for the city of Haifa stepped down Wednesday, in the wake of outrage over his statements supporting terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas and his support for BDS.

Haifa’s newly elected mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem had been expected to cancel the controversial appointment after it emerged that Raja Za’atara publicly claimed the terror groups were legitimate organizations. He also reportedly compared Islamic State with Zionism, saying that the former learned from the latter.

At a press conference, Za’atara said he would not apologize for his controversial statements and announced he was stepping down from the deputy mayor position, which will be filled by Hadash party member Shahira Shalabi.

Kalisch-Rotem met with Za’atara on Monday upon her return to Israel, Yediot Acharonot reported. While her office declined to provide details on the meeting, it appears that she asked Za’atara to explain controversial statements of support for the two terror organizations.

Za’atara is a member of Hadash, one of the three parties that make up the Joint List bloc of predominantly Arab lawmakers.

Opposition to his appointment came from across the political spectrum. According to Haaretz, Za’atara’s appointment was widely opposed by the residents of the city.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu branded the appointment “unacceptable” during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting. An official from the Haifa local authority on Tuesday called on Kalisch-Rotem to act promptly to resolve the issue.