Surprise #1 - Text of Ha'aretz Magazine Article Praising Sharon
A LITTLE TLC FROM ARIEL SHARON
How did Ariel Sharon succeed in becoming
the most popular prime minister in
Israel, despite his track record and the
desperate state of the country?
By Vered and Amnon Barzilai Photos by Nir Kafri
Ha'aretz Magazine - 29 November 2002:
The best example is Yossi Sarid. For almost 20 years, the leader of the
Meretz party and the country's senior dovish spokesman did not exchange a
word with Ariel Sharon. He detested him, warned people against him, savaged
him at every opportunity. For Sarid, Sharon was the very embodiment of
nationalist malice on earth. Yet these days, this same Yossi Sarid, the head
of the opposition until a few short weeks ago, is talking about Sharon in
terms reserved for intimate friends. "We sit, eat, drink, tell jokes,
gossip," he related. "He opened everything to me. He has great trust in me."
Sarid is only the unexpected tip of the iceberg. "I was captivated, I admit
it," reported MK Dalia Itzik (Labor), referring to the prime minister under
whom she served as minister of industry and trade, until Labor pulled out of
the government. Not to mention the compliments Sharon gets from other senior
figures in Labor, such as Shimon Peres and Matan Vilnai. Indeed, according
to one public opinion poll, about 40 percent of Labor Party voters said
Sharon is suited to be prime minister of Israel, the same percentage that
Ben-Eliezer and Ramon received.
If an Israeli who had spent the past two years in some remote corner of the
earth suddenly returned, he would surely rub his eyes in disbelief. Arik
Sharon, the person who was for decades the great demon of Israeli politics,
who threw a large and influential public into fright, who was one of the
leading inciters against the left ("to be informers and betrayers is part of
the left's spiritual existence," he said before the Rabin assassination),
who promised not to remove even the most isolated settlement - this same
Sharon is today a very popular prime minister who enjoys surprising sympathy
on the left, too.
The amazement of the fictional Israeli would intensify greatly upon grasping
the situation of the country under Sharon's leadership. OK, the turnabout in
Sharon's popularity might be understandable if Israelis were enjoying
tranquillity, prosperity and security. However, few Israelis are sitting
contentedly under their vines and fig trees. Far from it. Since the eruption
of the intifada on September 29, 2000, the day after Ariel Sharon visited
the Temple Mount, 461 Israeli civilians have been killed and 3,374 wounded
at the hands of Palestinians; and 208 members of the security forces have
been killed and 1,387 wounded.
During Sharon's tenure, unemployment has risen to 10.4 percent and the
standard of living has declined by 6.5 percent. Economic growth stands at
minus 1.8 percent; salaries of wage-earners have been eroded without
compensation; about a third of the salaried families have slipped below the
poverty line and the weak groups in the population have been battered.
Old-age pensions have been cut, the basic health care package has been
breached. The shekel has been devalued and inflation has risen - it now
stands at 7.7 percent a year. The budget was slashed by NIS 30 billion in
one year; foreign investors have fled, tourists are nowhere to be seen and
even Israeli soccer teams have to play international matches abroad. And who
is enjoying sweeping support? The prime minister.
A survey conducted by pollster Mina Tzemach, which was submitted to Sharon
the day after the coalition broke up, showed that 65 percent of the public
think he is a reliable prime minister; 60 percent trust him to lead the
country successfully; 66 percent give him a grade of "good" or "very good"
for his performance as prime minister; 69 percent don't think that he bears
the brunt of the responsibility for the security situation; 76 percent say
that "external causes and other circumstances," and not the prime minister,
are responsible for the dire economic situation.
How did this gap between the harsh reality and the status of the prime
minister come about? Have Israelis fallen prey to one of the great
manipulations in the history of mass psychology? How is it possible that
such a large section of the public places its trust in a leader whose whole
career has been studded with blood and fire, who can't point to a single
genuine achievement and who offers no hope? What is it about Sharon 2002
that makes him a source of security and sympathy against all odds? When did
Sharon stop inspiring his surroundings with fear and start charming even
Yossi Sarid, his most bitter political foe?
This article went to press before the results of the Likud primaries were
released. But even if the unexpected happens, and Sharon will lose to
Benjamin Netanyahu, the question still remains. How did Sharon become so
Arafat is good for Sharon
In January 2001, at the height of the election campaign between Sharon and
Labor's Ehud Barak, former U.S. president Bill Clinton met with Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat. By then, the polls were showing Sharon well ahead of
Barak. Clinton told Arafat that he was the best campaign manager he had ever
met. Surprised, Arafat asked which campaign Clinton had in mind. Sharon's
campaign, of course, Clinton replied. Indeed, the war that has been raging
for the past two years and the behavior of the Palestinian leader have
played into Sharon's hands.
"In troubled times, such as war, people prefer a leader who has the image of
a tribal elder, someone whose hands it's good to be in during dangerous
times," says Dr. Shaul Kimhi, a political psychologist. "That inclination,
combined with a loss of hope among many people, played into Ariel Sharon's
hands. People reached the conclusion that at the moment there is no
solution, and they don't believe that there is anyone else who would really
be able to do better. That, unfortunately, is the great achievement of
terrorism. Because when a society at war reaches a feeling like this of
helplessness and gives in, it allows its enemies to choose its leaders.
Arafat is responsible more than others for the person elected in Israel.
Sharon projects judiciousness, responsibility. The citizen, who is gripped
by genuine existential anxiety, says to himself that in a storm like this, I
would prefer a veteran and experienced captain over young, adventurist
sailors, because who know where they will steer this sinking ship?"
"Arafat is Sharon's No. 1 collaborator," says a senior figure in the Labor
Party. "After the intifada broke out, he succeeded in channeling Israeli
public opinion so that those who favor peace negotiations with the
Palestinians are considered supporters of terrorism, and those who are
against terrorism support Sharon."
On the eve of the 2001 elections, strategic consultant Kalman Gayer reached
the conclusion that "Arafat prefers a leader from the Likud and not from
Labor to head the Israeli government." His analysis was based on three
strategically important events that occurred in swift succession: In May
2000 the Barak government decided on a unilateral pullout from southern
Lebanon; two months later, the Camp David summit was held, and failed; and
two months after that, on September 29, the intifada began.
Arafat reached the conclusion that he would achieve his political goals by
means of terrorism, Gayer wrote. The escalation in terrorism and the suicide
bombing attacks worked in Sharon's favor. His campaign slogan, "Only Sharon
will bring peace," was at first perceived as a good joke conceived by the
advertising man Reuven Adler, a friend of Sharon. Adler told Ha'aretz at the
time that when Sharon heard the slogan from him for the first time, he
himself burst out laughing. In short order, the original slogan was
supplanted by a new one: "No negotiations under fire." In the meantime, two
other collaborators played into Sharon's hands. Ehud Barak declared that he
had "exposed Arafat's true face" at Camp David. The foreign minister at the
time, Shlomo Ben-Ami, said in an interview in Ha'aretz Magazine that "the
Oslo accord was a case of fraud on a historic scale."
According to Prof. Ephraim Yaar, a political sociologist, disappointment
with Oslo tipped the scales in Sharon's favor, both in the elections and in
the ensuing period: "The majority of the public said to itself that, on the
one hand, Israel cannot go barging in and liquidate hundreds or thousands of
Palestinians. On the other hand, there is today no partner for peace
negotiations. In other words, apart from striking at them every time as much
as possible, you really can't do anything. And that is something Sharon
knows how to do best."
Sharon's slogan conformed with the spirit that emanated from Washington in
the wake of September 11. Arafat found himself relegated to the same
category as Osama bin Laden, and relations between Israel and the United
States were tightened.
Since the Labor Party left the unity government on October 31 under the
leadership of the party's former chairman, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer - who has
since been replaced by Amram Mitzna - Sharon has become entrenched in the
public consciousness as the great supporter of unity in the face of all the
factionalists. Following the dissolution of the unity government, Sharon has
displayed virtuoso political skills that have dumbfounded his rivals, and no
one more than the pretender to the crown, former prime minister Benjamin
Netanyahu. Sharon confronted Labor, did not yield to the extortion of the
right wing, dissolved the Knesset, appointed former chief of staff Shaul
Mofaz as defense minister and Netanyahu as foreign minister, and took the
Likud convention by storm with a stirring speech. In the entire course of
this complex political maneuvering, Sharon did not make even one mistake.
Cabinet ministers who support him, his aides and political sociologists are
united in the opinion that the idea of a unity government is Sharon's major
asset and the source of the credit the public was willing to extend him.
Despite his fractious and quarrelsome image, Sharon has been behind the
creation of the unity governments in Israel since the 1980s. He is also the
only Israeli prime minister who established a unity government out of his
own free choice. Such governments were imposed on Levi Eshkol, Shimon Peres
and Yitzhak Shamir, and they did not hide their displeasure at having to
preside over them. Sharon, though, sought a unity government and didn't hide
his pleasure at its success.
The establishment of the national unity government under his aegis sent a
message of credibility and leadership. It enabled him to demonstrate his
maneuverability and agility of thought. He was generous, giving Labor the
most coveted gifts: the foreign affairs and defense portfolios. By doing so
he killed two birds with one stone: He won the sympathy among the left and
neutralized Netanyahu, as any other portfolio would be considered beneath
his dignity. He kept the key economic and social portfolios for the Likud.
The result was that he assured himself quiet in his party and in the
government from the day of his election.
"In contrast to prime ministers who were squeezed and blackmailed by small
parties that constituted the balance of power in the government, Sharon
emplaced himself as the balance of power in his government, between right
and left," says Eyal Arad, a political strategist.
After forming his national unity government, the prime minister appeared
exactly on time at the first meeting of his new cabinet. The ministers,
accustomed to waiting around for the previous prime ministers, Benjamin
Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, who made a habit of being late, were astounded.
They did not imagine that a cabinet meeting could actually begin at the
A similar surprise awaited the leader of the opposition, Yossi Sarid: "To
Sharon's credit, I have to say that he is very punctual. And that reflects
an attitude. I am obsessively punctual. If someone sets up a meeting with me
and then doesn't show up, I take it as an unforgivable display of disrespect
Subsequently, the cabinet ministers discovered that Sharon shows up on time
for private meetings, too, and that if something unexpected happens and he
knows he will be late, he makes sure that his interlocutor is informed and
also apologizes for being late. He replies to every minister who makes an
approach to him and is courteous and polite: When a female minister enters
his office he gets up out of his chair. He engages in personal small talk at
every meeting, demonstrates a caring attitude, displays personal interest in
his interlocutors and does not offend them, and doesn't raise his voice. He
gets back to ministers who call him. And Sharon is recompensed in the form
of calm, conciliated ministers who are also generally loyal. Media silence;
The Prime Minister's Bureau has also projected statecraft. Veteran political
and diplomatic correspondents speak about a professional, efficient bureau
that operates harmoniously with a minimum of hitches - a state of affairs
they don't remember in the past. True, many of the original staff of the
bureau left - Rafi Peled, Uri Shani, the spokeswoman Odelia Carmon, the
information adviser Yossi Gil, and others - but their departures did not
cause a ruckus. No one blabbed to the media. New people were brought in to
replace them. The bottom line is that the personnel changes did not affect
the bureau's functioning or the prime minister's image.
Another Sharon asset was the presence of Shimon Peres. The fact that
Israel's leading statesman - a figure who is highly regarded in the
international community, the person whom the right wing marked as an "Oslo
criminal" - joined Sharon gave the government international validation.
Peres' presence was of immeasurable value. "Sharon should be grateful to
Peres, because it was thanks to him and his prestigious status in the world
that Israel was not declared a pariah state in the past two years and that
Sharon himself was not declared a war criminal," says a senior figure in the
When minister Dalia Itzik accompanied Peres to the annual United Nations
General Assembly session in New York, Sharon called her a few times a day.
Itzik told him repeatedly: "Arik, you should send Shimon flowers every day
for what he is doing here, at the UN, for you."
Sharon now wants to recycle the success story: He has already announced that
if he is reelected, he will invite Amram Mitzna to serve in a national unity
A provocateur no more
The November 4 poll conducted by Mina Tzemach that showed such high support
for Sharon contained a surprising statistic: Some 40 to 42 percent of Labor
voters said Sharon was best suited to be prime minister, the same percentage
that Labor's Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Haim Ramon received. Mitzna received
62 percent, while Netanyahu was well back with 12 percent. The major reason
for the confidence that Labor voters have in Sharon is the fact that he is
perceived as a farmer who works the land and whose roots lie in Mapai, the
forerunner of Labor. The second reason is his style, based on the state's
primacy: devoid of orotund rhetoric, non-confrontational - the very
opposite, for example, of Menachem Begin's style.
No longer is this the Arik who snatches microphones from speakers, Arik the
provocateur and the inciter; this is the restrained, judicious
state-oriented Sharon. Says Lior Horev, a strategic adviser to Sharon:
"There is nothing confrontational about Sharon. He demonstrates restraint
and judiciousness. People want to know that there is someone they can rely
on and not to have to ask themselves day after day whether they made a
mistake in the election of their prime minister."
Has Sharon really changed or has he, at the advice of professional
consultants, imposed a new form of behavior on himself and is simply
following rules he adopted? "You can't fool all the people all the time,"
Horev says. "There was a process of internalization, which said that in
order to preserve the delicate fabric of this country, you really have to be
the prime minister of all the people. Barak said the same thing but wasn't
capable of translating it into practice. Sharon says it and does it."
According to political strategist Eyal Arad, who worked with Netanyahu on
his way to the top and now works with Sharon: "The majority of the public
says to itself that we are at war, the situation is difficult, no one really
has a solution, so what are we to do? What we can do is trust the commander.
Arik gets high grades in reliability in the polls. Barak was a `genius,'
Bibi [Netanyahu] was a `magician,' and the public saw where that got us. The
public appreciates the fact that it is not being fed a lot of illusions.
Bibi and Barak constantly worked on gimmicks, on instant gratification. Arik
doesn't have an immediate solution. He doesn't give the public a sense of
instant gratification. In that sense, he is like Ben-Gurion. He doesn't take
account of the flow of public opinion at a given moment."
Sharon also fits well into the nostalgic trend that has been spreading
around the country lately. In contrast to his predecessors Netanyahu and
Barak, who tried, each in his own way, to implement a revolutionary agenda
but only threw the country into free-fall, Sharon exudes a reassuring sense
of conservatism. He preaches a return to the values of the 1950s: security,
land settlement, immigration. A leader of the old school.
The disarming tactic
But has Sharon really changed? Has he truly become judicious, responsible,
moderate, composed? Uzi Benziman, a columnist for Ha'aretz and the author of
a biography of Sharon (English version: "Sharon: An Israeli Caesar," Adama
Books, 1985), is unconvinced. Consider the way Sharon handled the siege of
the Muqata, Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, Benziman says. His mode of
operation "revealed personal wildness and an uncontrollable passion to step
on Arafat, to trample him. The same approach is visible in remarks he
sometimes let slip out, such as the `need to take advantage of the
opportunity' [to create Jewish territorial continuity between Hebron and the
settlement of Kiryat Arba]. He said that after the bloody battle in Hebron,
just as he used to speak in the 1950s about the fedayeen [Palestinian
marauders who carried out cross-border raids into Israel until the 1967
war]. So I am not convinced that Sharon has really changed."
The best that Benziman can say about Sharon is: "He may be very pleased at
the good reaction he received for his image as a cordial Mapainik granddad.
He may be so pleased that he began to identify with the image - in other
words, he was captivated by the allure of his image and to a certain extent,
merged with it. If so, that definitely has a certain importance."
Meretz's Yossi Sarid does not agree that Sharon is a Mapainik. "He is the
antithesis to the Mapainik," Sarid says angrily. "He is a wolf in sheep's
clothing. He has just concealed his claws and his teeth, that's all."
According to Sarid, Sharon's outlook has not changed.
Sarid: "It is force-based and brutal. However, Sharon understood that his
old method did not work in his favor, so he moved to a new method: evasion
of confrontations. Like a boxer who constantly dances around his opponent,
but never punches him. That is a well-known tactic. And I have to admit that
it's effective. From the Knesset podium I attack him, skewer him like roast
chicken - and he doesn't reply. He doesn't hit back."
Sarid says that this method of operation works: "He is the leader, above;
below, let the boys play. It's an ancient, smart tactic. In terms of our
terrible situation, it is neither here nor there, of course. After all, he
is the worst prime minister in the history of the country; a drastic failure
by every possible yardstick. No one can point to even one achievement of
his, to something good that he has done. But there is no doubt that from his
personal point of view, this tactic works well for him. He is riding the
The core of the tactic, Sarid says in reply to a question, is "very simple:
disarming your foe. You avoid confrontation at any price and you thus
effectively neutralize your opponent. Sharon has raised the method of
fleeing from confrontations to unprecedented heights of sophistication."
Here is an example of a disarming technique: During a cabinet meeting,
Shimon Peres and Effi Eitam got into a bitter spat. Eitam called Peres an
"Oslo criminal" and an outraged Peres reminded Eitam of the incitement of
the right before the Rabin assassination. The argument continued to escalate
until Sharon intervened: "It's terrible, Shimon. I know exactly how you
feel. They often called me `a murderer.' These things have got to stop."
This managed to calm Peres and satisfy Eitam at the same time. The prime
minister had managed to equate the incitement of both the left and the
In the analysis of Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin (Likud), who
supported Sharon against Netanyahu, "Sharon has a personal code to the heart
of each of the ministers. He makes use of his excellent sense of humor,
sometimes cynically, and disarms each of them by means of an exclusive
formula." A striking example: On the day his government was installed,
Sharon went to console Dalia Itzik on her father's death during the
seven-day mourning period. It was hardly a routine day in the prime
minister's schedule, but he stayed with her and her family until after
midnight. He spoke to her mother, to her siblings, ate, showed an interest
in everyone and asked them to tell stories about the cabinet minister's late
father. You are a fascinating family, he told them. Itzik: "I was
captivated, I admit it."
Likud ministers say that Itzik told them more than once that working
alongside Sharon was an "affirmative experience" after the trauma of working
with Ehud Barak.
In certain cases, and with certain people, Sharon displays the more
sarcastic and cynical aspect of his sense of humor. "Make no mistake, he can
be cruel to people," says a former minister affiliated with Labor. "He picks
on the weak and he knows exactly who to mess with and who not. For example,
you will never catch him making a joke at the expense of Limor Livnat," the
education minister and member of the Likud.
For almost 20 years, Yossi Sarid did not exchange a word with Sharon. He
loathed him. It was against the background of the Labor Alignment's support
for the war in Lebanon, whose architect was Sharon, that Sarid left Labor
and joined Ratz (which evolved into Meretz). If there was one person in the
country for whom Sharon was a red cloth, it was Yossi Sarid. The enmity and
silence continued until Sharon's election as prime minister on February 5,
2001. Sarid became the leader of the opposition. Henceforth, parliamentary
procedure required that he hold regular meetings with the prime minister. If
he went to the first meeting under duress, he attended the ones that
followed happily and willingly. "Look, Yossi, the law says we have to meet
once a month. What do you say to the idea of breaking the law and meeting
more frequently?" Sharon said to him. Sarid couldn't resist.
What goes on in these private meetings between Sharon and Sarid? "I will
tell you what doesn't happen," Sarid says. "I don't deliver a speech about
the territories and he doesn't lecture on the settlements. We don't have
much to say about those issues that we haven't said before. We also don't
sit around bemoaning the situation. What are we to do, pluck the few hairs
that remain on each other's head?"
What do you do, then?
Sarid: "We sit, we eat, we drink, we tell jokes. We gossip."
About cabinet ministers, too?
"Of course. The prime minister has a fine sense of humor. And I think people
have said that I also have a pretty good sense of humor. By the way, there
are usually no substantial differences of opinion between us in our
assessments of the ministers and other office holders."
Do you find it interesting?
"What do you think - that it's boring to talk with Sharon about Fuad
[Ben-Eliezer] or Bibi or Peres?"
So you too have been captivated by his charms? Sharon bought you. That's the
whole story, right?
"No. There is a clear distinction between the substantive role and the
social aspect. The fact that we hold these cordial meetings has never
stopped me from speaking out sharply against him."
But if it were not for these meetings and Sharon ignored you ...
"Then he would have heard from me. I would have kicked up a holy ruckus."
In other words, Sharon succeeded in neutralizing you - your talks with him
are totally ineffective.
"That's not so. If there is a serious subject to discuss, we discuss it. I
talk to him about the foreign workers, I talk to him about the need for
humanitarian reinforcement in the territories. About important security
Has he made you privy to secret, classified subjects?
"Yes. He opened everything to me. He has great trust in me."
So you became his confidant?
"You don't have to exaggerate. Don't get carried away, please. The prime
minister appreciates the fact that nothing of what he told me privately was
leaked that day or the next day or a week later. And nothing he told me
changed my position of principle about him and his performance as prime
"Sharon is wonderful for himself and absolutely awful for Israel."
Surprise #2 - Text of Ha'aretz Magazine Article critical of Labor Party
candidate Amram Mitzna
By Sara Leibovich-Dar
[Ha'aretz Magazine 29 November 2002]
Amram Mitzna, the newly elected chairman of the Labor Party, knows himself
well. "A 57-year-old Jew doesn't change his worldviews. My philosophies are
well formed and just as they were expressed in the municipality, they'll be
expressed in the national government," he says.
Anyone wondering what type of prime minister Amram Mitzna would be should he
lead his party to victory in the upcoming elections may wish to consider his
record over the past nine years as mayor of Haifa. This is where he acquired
his civilian experience, where he implemented his ideas and demonstrated his
managerial capabilities. For the most part, the picture is quite positive:
Though he incurred a good deal of criticism for his close ties with
businesspeople, particularly with entrepreneur Gad Ze'evi, Mitzna and his
team have never been embroiled in any legal troubles; despite the many
complaints of environmental groups, Mitzna has made certain improvements in
this area and raised public awareness of the issue; he has promoted numerous
city projects, reduced the budget deficit and also maintained good relations
with the city's Arab, ultra-Orthodox and Russian immigrant populations.
Representatives of all three sectors are highly complimentary of the mayor's
But, of course, there's a flip side: Mitzna's relationship with Ze'evi is
somewhat complicated and invites curiosity; he has a penchant for hiring
aides and advisers with senior military ranks (his aides are sometimes
referred to collectively as "the junta"); and he's a centralist with a
reputation for being arrogant and aloof. Take, for example, the way in which
the monthly Haifa city council meetings are run. Mitzna sits at the head of
the table, presiding over the assembly of 30 council members, 25 of whom are
members of his coalition. Mitzna controls the microphones. At his request, a
technician shuts off the microphones of council members whose comments are
not to his liking.
The most problematic chapter in Mitzna's mayoral biography concerns his
relationship with Gad Ze'evi. Last week, Ze'evi published an ad in the local
Haifa paper congratulating Mitzna on his election as chairman of the Labor
Party. Ze'evi's nephew, Yigal Ze'evi, was Mitzna's political aide. In 1996,
Gad Ze'evi, together with a group of businessmen that included Uri Dori and
Yaakov Engel, financed the "Haifa Adifa" ("Haifa is Better") promotional
campaign, which indirectly served the political interests of the city's
Ze'evi gave, and he also received. In August 2000, long before Amram Mitzna
ever thought that he might actually be running for prime minister one day,
Yoram Gavison revealed in Ha'aretz that the Haifa Municipality was selling
lands to Ze'evi at a loss.
"Mitzna, in his role as chairman of the local construction and planning
commission, was ready to grant Ze'evi building rights that businesspeople in
other cities could only dream about," Gavison wrote. "This included, among
others, the Grand Canyon project and the David Yellin project, where the
building rights were worth about $100 million. The Haifa Municipality also
is not in any rush to collect the surcharges that Ze'evi owes it. It
sometimes even exempts itself completely from this unpleasant task, even
though it gave Ze'evi benefits worth enormous sums, and expressed a
willingness to give him additional benefits worth even more."
Gavison revealed, for example, that in the case of the Grand Canyon mall -
the large shopping center in the Yizra'eliya neighborhood, which was
completed in 1999 and considered the flagship of Ze'evi's business interests
in Haifa - the Haifa Municipality acquired land from the Israel Lands
Administration valued according to a 1997 appraisal at NIS 5 million per
dunam, but leased the land to Ze'evi at a price of just NIS 400,000 per
dunam (or, per quarter-acre, in accordance with a 1979 appraisal). Ze'evi
later changed the designated use of parts of the mall from office space to
commercial space, but did not pay the resulting surcharges. Ze'evi also
received from Mitzna retroactive approval for construction of four
additional apartments in Migdalei Elisha and was not asked to pay a
surcharge. Ze'evi also obtained extraordinarily generous building rights in
In the City Center project in Haifa's German Colony, Ze'evi received
building rights that were expanded on the basis of his commitment to build
offices and a hotel on the site. Ze'evi subsequently sought to convert the
designation to office space alone. At a February 1999 meeting, the local
construction and planning commission approved the use of 4,200 extra meters
of office space and rented half of the area from Ze'evi.
Mitzna: "The entrepreneurs are the fuel that gets things moving. Ze'evi
didn't receive anything. I use him more than he uses me. It's all nonsense.
He didn't get any breaks."
Less well-known businesspeople were also treated warmly by Mitzna.
"There's no mayor like him in the country," says Yisrael Shotland, head of
the Israeli Institute for Export and International Cooperation and a former
chairman of the Haifa Industrialists Association (1997-2000). "Before there
was a directive from the Interior Ministry prohibiting the granting of
discounts on municipal taxes for industry, he tried to help us. There was a
joint committee of the municipality and the industrialists that met and
allotted discounts. There was a problem with the matter of signs - there's a
tax on billboards, and he gave discounts on the tax and spread out the
payments. Mitzna is certainly a man of principles, but it's possible to come
to an understanding with him on everything."
Mitzna: "I did not give any discounts in municipal or other taxes or
anything else. It's simply untrue. No such thing happened. I am very
scrupulous about adhering to the law."
Military men at City Hall
Amram Mitzna was elected mayor of Haifa in November 1993. He won 56 percent
of the vote to defeat Pinhas Narkis of the non-party list (with 16.5
percent) and attorney Avi Goldhammer of the Likud (11 percent). His
political rivals in both Labor and Likud were already charging back then
that Mitzna was inexperienced. But it soon became obvious that the man had a
pretty good grasp of politics. Within a few days, he put together a broad
coalition that included all but five members of the city council. In the
1998 elections, he won an even larger share of the vote - 64 percent - and
defeated Amos Eden of the independent Haifa'im list (28 percent) and Rami
Levy of the Likud (7 percent). In that same election, the Labor Party
dropped from 13 seats on the local council to just seven. Mitzna's opponents
asserted that he was only elected because he didn't face a rival candidate
of any great stature, and that city residents vented their disapproval of
him by reducing his party's power.
Whatever the case, Mitzna was able to put together another broad coalition.
He may be opposed to a national unity government, as he has recently stated,
but his municipal coalition was a rare example of unity between the Likud,
Hadash, Shas, Agudath Israel, Labor, the NRP and Yisrael b'Aliyah. The
opposition comprised the four Green Party representatives and the one
council member from Meretz. Avraham Weitzman, the lone Shas representative
on the council, was made deputy mayor (with a monthly salary of NIS 31,000).
"I'm the only example in the country where Shas has a single council member
who is also deputy mayor," he says. "Aryeh Deri closed the deal without
signatures or anything."
Mitzna: "On the municipal level, the opposition lacks importance. Whoever
wants to seriously be a part of things joins the coalition. In the framework
of a coalition agreement between Labor and the religious front (the NRP,
Shas, Agudath Israel and Degel Hatorah), it was decided that the position of
deputy mayor would be rotated among the religious factions. I fulfilled the
agreement as stipulated."
You seem to prefer yes-men to a strong opposition.
Mitzna: "The broader the coalition, the more discussions you can have. I see
that as an advantage."
At City Hall, Mitzna also surrounded himself with people unlikely to be
critical of him. Most of the people he brought with him are former army
officers, and some were directly under his command: Brigadier General Hagai
Levy, who was Mitzna's chief of staff in the Central Command, was appointed
director-general of the municipality; Brigadier General Aharon Ophir was
appointed deputy director-general of the municipality; Colonel Moshe Tzur
was appointed director of the Haifa Entrepreneurs Center and currently runs
the Haifa tourism development foundation; Major Haimon Blumenfeld, who was
Mitzna's bureau chief in the Central Command, was appointed as his bureau
chief in the municipality, but subsequently left the position; Lieutenant
Colonel Moshe Rosenberg was appointed as city comptroller.
Mitzna doesn't see what the problem is: "They're loyal, they don't have any
personal political ambitions, they bring experience and work ethics and work
from morning till night. The only thing that interests me is appointing the
best people on the planet."
But while he is surrounded by handpicked appointees, Mitzna doesn't trust
anyone but himself. "He can't let even the tiniest thing in Haifa slip
through his fingers," says architect Shmuel Gelbhart, a member of the Green
Party. "He's a mayor who tends to every little thing, but he only sees
what's right in front of him and is blind to the long-range view."
Once again, Mitzna has a hard time accepting criticism: "There is no
contradiction between keeping informed on details and engaging in long-range
planning. Every year, we come up with a work plan. My management philosophy
says that I have to be informed and up to date. I delegate authority to
administrative chiefs, but I obligate them to keep me continuously informed
so that I'll have my finger on the pulse."
To keep his finger on the pulse, Mitzna is chairman of no less than 13
committees and municipal corporations. In 1998, when Prof. Noam Gavrieli,
who was chairman of the Environmental Affairs Committee for the local
authorities in the region, criticized Mitzna on a number of environmental
issues, Mitzna had him removed from the job and took on the chairmanship
himself. "Debate is crucial to urban planning," says Gelbhart. "There are
competing interests. What's right for the mayor is not always right for the
chairman of the Environmental Affairs Committee or the chairman of the
Kishon River Authority."
Mitzna also rebuffs the criticism that he doesn't know how to take
criticism: "I took it upon myself to chair the Environmental Affairs
Committee and the Kishon River Authority in order to give this issues
priority. [The groups] fight with one another and if there's one person in
both, there can be more coordination and cooperation."
Relations with the Arabs
One of the first problems Mitzna had to contend with after being elected
mayor was a demonstration by 500 Arab residents of the city, in wake of the
massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein at the Cave of the Patriarchs in
Hebron in February 1994. In Nazareth and elsewhere in the Galilee, the
demonstrations had turned violent. The demonstration in Haifa was a
relatively calm affair, thanks largely to Mitzna, the new mayor. He had
hastened to distribute posters in both Arabic and Hebrew condemning the
massacre and calling on residents not to harm the fabric of relations
between the city's Jews and Arabs.
He acted similarly after the October 2000 riots and won much praise for his
leadership. "His voice cried out from the wilderness," says attorney Aiman
Odeh, a city council member from Hadash. "He came down to Wadi Nisnas, stood
in the middle of the demonstration and asked the police not to shoot. He had
a dialogue with the demonstrators. Not a single demonstrator was killed or
injured in Haifa. The police didn't even shoot rubber bullets. It was his
stance that caused the events to pass peacefully in Haifa."
Mitzna also tried to arrange a sulha (reconciliation) at the end of that
year, but Haifa's Arabs decided not to come. "We thought that it wasn't the
time for a superficial sulha. The problems have to be solved on a deeper
level," says Odeh, hastening to add that the Arab representatives on the
city council truly appreciate Mitzna's activity on behalf of the 30,000
Arabs who live in Haifa.
"When Mitzna became mayor, 70 percent of the Arab children went to private
schools because the conditions in the public schools were like back in the
time of the Turks," says attorney Ghassan Abu Warda, a city council member
from Meretz, who is not a part of Mitzna's coalition. "The majority still go
to private schools, but the situation has improved. A technological school
was built for the Arab sector and other schools have been renovated. There
still isn't equality between Jews and Arabs, but Mitzna has done more than
his predecessors did."
Ja'afar Farah, director of the Center for Equal Rights, says that the main
problems for Haifa's Arabs is housing. "These problems were not solved under
Mitzna. Not a single new neighborhood was built, and there was no
development in most of the Arab neighborhoods. We're living in terribly
crowded conditions. I live in Wadi Nisnas. There's investment in tourism
there and during `Hag Hehagim' (an event that the municipality organizes in
December and January to coincide with Hanukkah, Christmas and Id al-Fitr),
thousands of people come. But the people who live there all year round need
to be given appropriate services. This isn't happening. The neighborhood is
falling apart. Mitzna has perpetuated the status quo of his predecessor,
Mitzna: "Most of the lands in Haifa are privately owned. The municipality
cannot build an Arab neighborhood in the city. But during my tenure,
hundreds of housing units were built in the lower Carmel area. In Wadi
Nisnas, we allowed buildings to be enlarged, but it's a slow and complicated
`Respect' for religious
Religious Jews in Haifa are generally satisfied with their mayor. About 10
percent of the city's 275,000 residents are religious, and about half of
them are ultra-Orthodox. While its numbers aren't that big, Mitzna has tried
to be attentive to the needs of the religious community, even though it does
not pose a political threat to him. The Haifa status quo: Restaurants and
clubs are open on Shabbat, businesses are closed, public transportation
operates, stores that are not under Jewish ownership and stores in areas
where the majority of the population is not Jewish are open on Shabbat.
Avraham Weitzman, the Shas representative, says that Mitzna has tried to
preserve the status quo and not to provoke the ultra-Orthodox: "He's done
everything through dialogue, in a civilized manner. He did not allow the
malls to open stores on Shabbat. About four months ago, we found out that
some construction work was supposed to be done on Shabbat. We went to him
about it and he postponed it until after Shabbat. A large piece of equipment
that was supposed to be brought from the Haifa port to the refineries on
Shabbat was moved on a weekday instead and there was no fuss about it. No
one heard about it.
"Whatever could be given according to the municipality's criteria, he gave.
As far as it was possible to get along - we got along with him. As prime
minister, he'll be good for the religious public, and I say that despite the
differences in our political views."
Attorney Reshef Hen, a city council member from Shinui (in Haifa, Shinui is
part of the Greens and thus in the opposition), sees things a little
differently: "Mitzna gives the religious a lot and therefore the status quo
is preserved. He operates according to the old Mapai method of trying to
satisfy the city's various publics so they will be quiet. I had a battle
with him over the issue of municipal grants to yeshiva students. The Haifa
Municipality gives a grant of NIS 1,000 to every yeshiva student. I argued
that all residents of Haifa ought to be receiving the same grant and not
just the yeshiva students. My opinion was not accepted."
Mitzna: "Even though the religious in Haifa don't have political power, I
treat them with respect and give them what they deserve. My motto is live
and let live. In the state, as in the city, each public has its rights and
desires and they all must be respected. The city is completely open on
Shabbat without any group imposing itself on others. I am truly a mayor for
everyone who respects and understands everyone."
Of the country's three major cities, Haifa has the highest percentage of
unemployed job-seekers. Between 1996-2000, the number of people receiving
pensions from the National Insurance Institute (NII) was also higher than in
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Or Yehudai, president of Frutarom and chairman of
the Haifa Industrialists Association, says that for years, Mitzna thought
that Haifa should be a center for regional services, without much industry,
but with plenty of banks and law firms and accounting offices. "As a result,
the industrial areas were neglected and factories closed." Yehudai
acknowledges that he doesn't have any precise statistics on how many
factories have closed in recent years, but he insists that "there have been
Mitzna: "The unemployment is a result of a national, not a municipal,
system. Yes, we come in third if you compare us to the other big cities, but
that's because Tel Aviv is a central city, with all that implies in terms of
employment, and in Jerusalem, a lot of people work in government offices or
are not part of the work force. When you compare us to the Israeli reality
as a whole, Haifa is doing very well, especially if you take into account
the fact that we've absorbed 80,000 new immigrants - the highest number to
be absorbed by one locality."
Why are factories in Haifa closing?
"We've promoted a master plan that still hasn't been put into effect because
of the government. There are areas around here that are designated as higher
priority for development, so why should they invest in Haifa, which doesn't
have the same status? The Hof Shemen industrial area has undergone a
Haifa merchants are also grumbling. "We did not benefit from the economic
boom of the 1990s," says Eyal Malamud, president of the chamber of commerce
in Haifa and the north. A study conducted by the Chamansky Ben-Shahar
economic consulting firm on behalf of Hadar Hacarmel merchants and published
in December 2001 concluded: "The Haifa municipality failed in the planning
and administration of municipal commercial commerce in general and in Hadar
in particular." The study found that 15 percent of commercial space stood
empty and that the number of empty commercial spaces had increased by a
third over the previous two years.
"Office buildings in different parts of the city are empty," says Malamud.
"We don't have cooperation from Mitzna on the day-to-day level. He doesn't
hear us. It's not enough to decide that one side knows everything - one has
to listen to the other side and try to understand its needs. The lack of
cooperation and collaboration with the business sector is what has led to
this situation. The attitude was always, `We know what's good for you.'"
Mitzna: "That's absolute nonsense. Commerce in Haifa has been doing nothing
but developing. On Herzl Street in the afternoon, there's practically no
room on the sidewalks. But don't forget that Haifa has to cope with the same
economic situation that applies to the whole country."
The Haifa Municipality's Web site proudly describes the recent film festival
that drew 40,000 viewers and an exhibition at the Haifa Museum that has
attracted thousands of visitors. However, the city council's cultural
committee has not met even once in the past two years and the Haifa Theater,
which was the city's cultural showpiece, is now operating at a NIS
1.42-million deficit and has seen a steep decline in subscribers (from
24,000 in 1998 to 9,000 this year).
"There's no lively culture in the city," says Roni Pinkovitz, who was Haifa
Theater's artistic director from 1997-2000. "Haifa has never made culture a
central part of city life. But Mitzna was the champ in my book. He was the
one I went to. He had a feeling for the theater, he listened and tried to
help. A lot of problems were solved thanks to him. For a big city mayor, he
was relatively involved."
Others disagree. Mitzna has no interest in culture, says poet Natan Zach, a
Haifa resident for 20 years who left the city two years ago: "I fled from
there because I couldn't bear to see the destruction of the city. There are
hardly any cultural institutions left. The municipal museum remains in a
remote location, the cafes where artists used to hang out have closed. In
Wadi Salib, they built some houses that were meant for artists, but no
artist can afford to buy there.
"Mitzna refused to meet with delegations of writers. Sure, he was happy to
meet with us before the elections, but afterward he didn't want to hear
anything about us. Mitzna was in the army from age 15 and had no contact
with art. The city is dying culturally. The lower section of the city has a
few bars with prostitutes, liquor stores, garages, supermarkets, retail
outlets and a huge convention center. As far as the national press is
concerned, Haifa is out of sight and out of mind. I actually am pleased with
his election as head of the Labor Party and I expect that some people in
Haifa will vote for him in the hope of getting him out of the city. The only
thing he's interested in is sports."
Mitzna certainly is interested in sports, though Maccabi Haifa owner Yaakov
Shahar also has complaints: "There's attitude and then there's budgets.
Mitzna has a wonderful attitude toward the team. He comes to games,
especially the home games, but the municipality has not been generous in
terms of budgets, and that's putting mildly. In 2001, we received about NIS
200,000, which is nothing compared to other cities. His priorities were
different." In 2002, the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team received about NIS
700,000 from the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Mitzna: "The theater is in serious distress but it gets a big budget.
Naturally, there's a deficit because the Ministry of Culture has not been
meeting the terms of the agreement that I signed with it and got us into big
problems. As for the museums, there have been tremendous changes. Yes, the
city's traditional museum is located in an old building, but it's now being
overhauled - an elevator is being installed and other renovations are going
on. When I came to Haifa, the museums were practically nonexistent."
Why doesn't the culture committee ever meet?
"Nu, what does that matter? The committees hardly ever meet, but the
municipality still has an excellent cultural division."
Why did you refuse to meet with writers?
"Nonsense, utter nonsense. I have never refused to meet with writers and
that's a malicious claim to make."
One of the main issues on the agenda is environmental pollution,
particularly air pollution. The city's Web site features a daily index of
the air quality. Monitoring stations have been set up in several public
places. The most recent report from the Haifa District Municipal Association
for the Environment (or HDMAE, which, again, is chaired by Mitzna) showed a
significant decrease in the levels of air pollution in the city, primarily
from sulphur oxide. But figures from the Environment Ministry on air quality
in Israel show that the sulphur oxide levels in Haifa are still very high. A
survey conducted by high-tech executive Haim Rosenberg for the Greens on the
city council showed that the sulphur oxide level had indeed decreased, but
the levels of other pollutants had risen by as much as 20 percent.
"Part of the decrease in air pollution is due to diminished production by
the polluting factories and not due to any special actions on the part of
the municipality," says Gelbhart. "The main problem is that even when
there's a red-alert situation and the air quality is terrible, the public is
not informed and populations that could be harmed cannot take precautionary
Mitzna: "Haifa is the most advanced city in the world when it comes to air
pollution. There is no air pollution in Haifa. Our achievements in the
environmental sphere are among our most prominent accomplishments."
The Environment Ministry's statistics say otherwise: "The ministry has one
monitoring station in the lower part of the city in the middle of the road
right by all the car exhausts. If you move away from there, the findings are
different. We have 13 monitoring stations with different data."
How do you warn residents on days when the air quality is particularly bad?
Mitzna: "There is no red-alert level in Haifa, unless you're in the middle
of the street in the lower part of the city, but we're working on a project
that will give an air-quality forecast several days ahead of time. Today,
it's not possible to give a warning, because there's no forecast. There's
only on-the-spot testing."
Dr. Levana Kordoba, director of the Environment Ministry's monitoring
system, confirms some of Mitzna's claims, but disputes his assertion that
there is no air pollution in Haifa: "We do have only one monitoring station
in Haifa, which measures just five pollutants. In our analysis, we rely on
reports from the HDMAE. Haifa is far from the cleanest city in the country.
In 2001, we recorded three instances in which Haifa deviated from the strict
standard, and indicates a very dangerous situation. It's the only city in
the country where such deviations were found. It also has air pollution from
transportation, maybe a little less than Tel Aviv, but that's also due to
Haifa's topography. The HDMAE is a good organization but I wouldn't go so
far as to say that the city is the most advanced in this area."
The Kishon River is naturally the focus of much attention. In August 2000,
Nehama Ronen, the director-general of the Environment Ministry, testified
before the Shamgar commission investigating possible links between pollution
in the Kishon and the illnesses of navy divers who trained there, that high
concentrations of oxides and carcinogenic heavy metals had been found in the
river in 1997, and that she had asked Mitzna to halt all such activity in
the river. Mitzna refused, saying that it was up to the Health Ministry to
intervene if necessary.
Mitzna: "It's the Health Ministry's responsibility to determine whether one
should enter the water. Documents from the Health Ministry totally back me
up. If we're within their accepted parameters, then, from my point of view,
the Kishon is clean. The Environment Ministry is taking upon itself things
that are not exactly in its purview. The Kishon is up to standard. You have
keep everything in proportion. And I do have an interest in developing water
sports in the Kishon."
Environmental activists are critical of the city's treatment of its beaches.
Haifa is blessed with 12 kilometers of shorefront.
"Several big real-estate projects, like Migdalei Hof Hacarmel, Migdal Hahof
Hadromi and the marina project, have effectively used up most of the city's
beaches," says Nir Papai of the Society for the Protection of Nature in
Israel. "The beach's importance to the city can hardly be overestimated.
It's a recreational asset and a natural asset. The takeover of the beaches
will deal a grave blow to the city."
The marina project is the one causing the most anger among Haifa's
environmentalists. The idea was proposed by Aryeh Gurel, Mitzna's
predecessor, but Mitzna is the one who has pushed for its execution. A year
and a half ago, the national planning and construction council ordered a
reexamination of the proposed plan. According to the original proposal,
Haifa's southern shore would become the site of a large marina surrounded by
20-story apartment buildings. Approximately 500 dunams (125 acres) of
shoreline are slated to be filled up.
Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi, dean of the humanities faculty at the University of
Haifa, is one of the most vocal opponents of the marina project. "The marina
is not what Haifa needs. It's a great danger to the beaches, to the city's
character and to the skyline."
Despite his objections to the project, Ben-Artzi still thinks that Mitzna
has been a good mayor overall: "He's very serious and efficient. He's out in
the field a lot. Many of the plans that will harm the environment in Haifa
were begun before he came on the scene and will continue once he's gone."
Papai says that the location for the proposed marina, "where the Carmel
meets the sea, is a very valuable natural asset. Rosh Hanikra is the only
other place where you have a similar meeting between mountain and sea. The
location is also important in terms of the marine life. There are several
diving centers there because of the unique marine life in the area."
Haim Rax of the Bat Galim neighborhood committee says that the
neighborhood's 6,000 residents will be affected the most by the project:
"They'll build an enclave there for rich magnates from abroad and we'll
become a second-class neighborhood. Bat Galim is the only seaside
neighborhood in the country. Nowhere else is there a neighborhood where the
houses are right on the sea. There's no justification for filling up the
shoreline and ruining Bat Galim in order to build houses for rich people."
Mitzna: "More nonsense. The Haifa shoreline is one of the most open
shorelines in the country. Migdalei Hof Hacarmel did not take away a single
centimeter of shoreline. The marina is one of the most important projects
for Haifa and I'll continue to fight for it. Do you know of any coastal
cities in Europe that don't have a marina? Most of the area will be public
space. There will be boardwalks, beaches for swimming and cafes."
[IMRA: This Ha'aretz Magazine piece wasn't Mitzna's only surprise. He was
stunned when he was ridiculed while interviewed on Israel Radio's weekend
radio news magazine program. Besides repeatedly cutting him off "you are
repeating yourself...you already said this before", the interviewers asked
him to explain "his embarrasing remark" that while he was clueless as to the
positions MK Tommy Lapid's Shinui party have regarding "security and peace
issues" that he preferred to form a government with them rather than with
Shas. Mitzna failed to explain himself and the interview moved on to other