Deri aims to stop ‘terror backer’ from becoming deputy mayor

Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) took steps over the weekend to prevent the appointment of a deputy mayor in Haifa, who he says has expressed support for terrorist groups and compared Israel to ISIS.

called upon new Haifa mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem not to appoint Raja Za’atra, a veteran activist and former spokesman for the Hadash party. He also called on Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to check his authority as interior minister to prevent Za’atra’s appointment to a post that is paid by taxpayer money.

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“Haifa city councilman Raja Za’atra has expressed support for Hezbollah and Hamas, backed boycotts of Israel, and supported protests against Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” Deri wrote on Twitter. “Such a man cannot be appointed a deputy mayor with a salary as the Haifa mayor wishes.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also called upon the Labor Party to take action against Kalisch-Rotem, who was their candidate for mayor and defeated incumbent Yona Yahav of Yesh Atid in the October 30 election.

“The decision of the Labor Party to appoint as Haifa deputy mayor a declared supporter of BDS and Hezbollah, who compared Zionism to ISIS is completely crazy,” Lapid wrote on Twitter. “The Zionist Union must demand that Kalisch-Rotem break her agreement, which connects them to the worst among the haters of Israel.”

Za’atra made the comparison between Zionism and ISIS at a political debate organized by the Bar Ilan University’s student union during the 2015 election campaign, when he was the spokesman for the Joint List.

“Where do you think Daesh (Islamic State) learned these things?,” he asked. After someone in the audience responded with “From you!,” Za’atra continued: “Look for what the Zionist movement did in 1948. The rape, the looting, the murder… The exact same things.”

The Makor Rishon website revealed last week that Za’atra had expressed support on his social media pages for Hezbollah, Syrian president Bashar Assad and North Korea. He has also posted comparisons between Zionism and Nazism, and compared former defense minister Avigdor Liberman to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

In a city council meeting last week, Kalisch-Rotem called her critics “populists” and vowed to continue working for peaceful coexistence in the city.

“Populism out, respectful, professional debate in,” she said in a statement delivered in mixed Hebrew and English.

Za’atra responded by telling Israel Radio that as a representative of Arab Israelis, he is under no obligation to express the views of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. He said he would not retract any of his past statements.

“A nation that is facing occupation and aggression is permitted to oppose the aggression and the occupation,” he said. “The opposition to the Israeli occupation in Lebanon was started by the Communist party in 1982. I am not a Hezbollah or Hamas man. I am a communist and these are my views.”

Late Saturday night, the interior ministry’s legal adviser, Yehuda Zameret, told Deri he would probe Za’atra’s alleged statements because the Haifa deputy mayor denies making some of them.

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