After Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria dropped out of the race to head the Jerusalem municipality last week and Zippi Brand Frank joined forces with Asaf Zamir in his quest to unseat longtime Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, there are no longer any women running for office in Israel’s two largest cities.
The withdrawals also indicate that issues important to women in the cities may take a back seat. Azaria’s campaign had run into trouble after it racked up debts funding a lawsuit to force the Egged bus company that runs most of Jerusalem’s bus lines to run ads on the sides of its buses with the faces of women, even though these are routinely vandalized by the ultra-Orthodox.
In Tel Aviv, Brand Frank had been planning a child and parent-centric platform with her party. She is still hoping to get the education portfolio after taking the number two slot on the list of former rival Asaf Zamir.
Azaria was the last woman standing in Jerusalem, but withdrew her name from the ballot and backed Likud’s Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin on Wednesday.
“I’m proud of the historic opportunity to be a woman candidate for mayor [of Jerusalem] and break that glass ceiling. I’m withdrawing my candidacy out of a sense of responsibility for Jerusalem,” she said at a press conference in the capital Wednesday evening.
“Elkin is the only Zionist candidate who can win,” Azaria said.
According to a statement from Elkin’s Yerushalayim Tatzliah (“Jerusalem Will Succeed”) faction, Azaria will remain in the Knesset and not serve on the city council, but two members of her Yerushalayim faction will receive slots four and six on Elkin’s list.
On Sunday the Likud Party’s Jerusalem branch wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to withdraw his support for Elkin, saying Elkin had drawn up a list of “left-wing extremists” for the city council who could “put the Likud in a dangerous position with its partners.”
The merger of the two lists is a boost to Elkin’s bid against city council member Moshe Lion, who is backed by the Shas and Yisrael Beytenu parties, and secular candidate Ofer Berkovitch. The Jerusalem branch of the Likud Party is backing Lion over Elkin.
Jerusalem’s non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox population makes up over a third of the capital’s Jewish voting population and has served as the deciding swing vote in municipal elections in recent years. Jerusalem’s Arab population has historically boycotted the mayoral race.
The Ynet news site alleged Wednesday that Azaria had offered to back Berkovitch earlier this month in a meeting with his supporters from the Hitorerut (“Awakening”) faction, but they refused her demand to cover her campaign bills.
Her campaign went into debt in part after funding the lawsuit to force the Egged bus company to run ads on the sides of its buses with the faces of women.
While Berkovitch’s and Azaria’s factions are thought to be ideologically close, both backed by Jerusalem’s secular and pluralistic publics, the two famously don’t get along.
Azaria’s withdrawal was not a surprise. She has trailed far behind the three frontrunners Elkin, Berkovitch and Lion since announcing her candidacy in June.
Azaria is the third candidate to pull out after secular candidate Yossi Havilio announced he was withdrawing and backing Berkovitch, and Palestinian activist Aziz Abu Sarah withdrew earlier this month.
Yet the Jerusalem field remains crowded. Even after the withdrawal of Havilio, Abu Sarah, and Azaria, it still includes the three frontrunners, little-known Avi Salman, struggling Haredi candidate Yossi Deitch, and far-right deputy mayor Aryeh King.
The first round of voting in local elections is set for October 30. If no candidate garners over 40 percent of the vote, a second round will be held in mid-November between the two frontrunners.
Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, a month before the municipal elections, the two main frontrunners in Tel Aviv’s ballot are Ron Huldai, who heads the Tel Aviv 1 list and has served as mayor for 19 consecutive years, and his protege-turned-rival Zamir, who leads the Rov Ha’ir (“City Majority”) party. Zamir, 38, held the position of deputy mayor under Huldai for the past 10 years before ditching his mentor and running independently.
The main female candidate Tzipi Brand Frank, a 48-year-old, award-winning documentary film producer who shifted into politics several years ago, had intended to run for mayor herself and to push for a child and parent-centric platform with her party, but ultimately backed out of the race after being convinced by Zamir that her agenda would best be served if he were to win the elections. Brand is now second on Zamir’s party list.
Up until recently, Brand had directed much effort to attack Zamir, especially with regard to the municipal education system.
According to the Haaretz daily, Zamir offered Brand her choice of any senior portfolio if he were to win the elections. If Zamir loses but joins the city’s ruling coalition, Brand will receive the second most senior portfolio that the faction will hold, the report stated.
“I took it upon myself to promote real change within the municipal political system, and I was convinced that with Zamir we would be able to advance all the issues that I had fought for alone on behalf of the residents of the city,” Brand told Haaretz. “We are now able to bring to fruition all the issues that have been discussed, with greater force and with broader support – primarily a revolution in education, [construction at] Kikar Atarim, the preservation of the coastline, real urban planning that takes the resident into account, the place of the resident vis-à-vis municipal legal bodies, etc.”
Other Tel Aviv candidates include former TV personality Assaf Harel from Anachnu Ha’ir (“We are the City”), and Natan Elnatan of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Amir Badran, of the far left Jewish-Arab Hadash party, recently joined Harel and will serve as number 2 on the Anachnu Ha’ir list.
Another woman, Meital Lehavi, who heads the left-wing Meretz party’s Tel Aviv branch, and independent candidate Yair Tzabari, dropped out of the race over the past few days.
“I deliberated until the last-minute whether to run for city council or to make do with outside support, and I came to the conclusion that none of us has the right to sit still in such meaningful moments for the city and the state,” Lehavi said after announcing she would not run for mayor. “It’s time to lead change and it’s our job to lead it,” she added, according to Haaretz.