update desk

New Haifa mayor rolls back Hamas supporter’s appointment as deputy

Head of Hadash city council list Raja Zaatra refuses to apologize for comparing ISIS to Zionism • Netanyahu asks Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem to cancel appointment • Zaatra’s replacement, Shahira Shalabi, has expressed support for Hamas.

Haifa Mayor Einat Kalish-Roten. Credit: The Tower.
Haifa Mayor Einat Kalish-Roten. Credit: The Tower.

The newly elected mayor of Haifa, Einat Kalisch-Rotem, has decided to reverse her decision to appoint controversial Arab Israeli activist Raja Zaatra as her deputy, sources close to Kalisch-Rotem said on Tuesday.

Zaatra, a member of the far-left Arab-Jewish party Hadash, formerly served as the spokesman for the Joint Arab List. Ahead of the 2015 Knesset election, he sparked widespread outrage when he compared the Islamic State group to Zionism.

Speaking at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Zaatra asked: “Where did ISIS learn all these things? Look at what the Zionist movement did in 1948, the acts of rape, murder, plunder and mass slaughter.”

Zaatra also claimed that Hamas was not a terrorist organization and that people under “occupation” had a “legitimate right to resist.”

Interviewed by Israel Hayom in 2015 following his remarks at Bar-Ilan, Zaatra stressed that he stood by his words and had no regrets about his speech.

On Wednesday, Zaatra announced at a press conference that he would not serve as deputy mayor, and that the post would be filled by No. 2 on the Hadash list, councilwoman Shahira Shalabi.

Zaatra told reporters he would not apologize for his political beliefs.

“I don’t support terrorism. The [Israeli] government behaves like the mafia,” he told reporters.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Kalisch-Rotem not to name Zaatra her deputy.

“I got a hold of Haifa’s mayor to ask her to cancel the appointment of a deputy mayor who supports Hezbollah and Hamas, which declare their intention to annihilate Israel,” Netanyahu said.

The upset caused by the announcement that Zaatra had been the mayor’s first pick for deputy is unlikely to disappear, given that Shalabi’s own political opinions are “no less nationalist” than Zaatra’s, according to a senior official in the Haifa municipality.

“Even if she is the one to serve as Kalisch-Rotem’s deputy, the public in Haifa will not stay quiet about it,” the official said.

“Expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people is fine, but expressing explicit support for Hamas at a time of war, as [Shalabi] did during ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ is totally unacceptable, and as bad as supporting Hezbollah and Nasrallah,” the official added.

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