Former NY consul general Zamir joins Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai to run for city hall

Ex-tourism minister announces return to local politics after quitting envoy job due to judicial overhaul, 1 election cycle after losing challenge against longtime incumbent in 2018

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Asaf Zamir outside Israel's consulate in New York City shortly after quitting his position as consul general in protest, March 26, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Asaf Zamir outside Israel's consulate in New York City shortly after quitting his position as consul general in protest, March 26, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Former Israeli consul general to New York Asaf Zamir signaled his entry into Tel Aviv’s mayoral race on Monday, announcing a joint run with incumbent Ron Huldai.

If successful in the October 31 ballot, Huldai would be mayor and Zamir his deputy. Zamir has previously filled the deputy slot for five-term mayor Huldai, before unsuccessfully challenging him for the job in 2018.

“There’s a lot to do in the city and a lot of challenges stand before us,” Zamir wrote in a Facebook post announcing his run. “I firmly believe that together we can continue to move the city forward and protect it as Israel’s liberal beacon, illuminating the darkness and signaling the correct way forward.”

After leaving Tel Aviv politics, Zamir entered Knesset with the Blue and White party in 2019, briefly served as tourism minister, and later broke with his party and became Israel’s consul general in New York. Zamir resigned his diplomatic post in March, citing discomfort representing the country in light of the government’s push to overhaul the judiciary.

Huldai, who has led the city since 1998, hailed his former challenger as his political heir. On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Huldai wrote, “I see Asaf as the next generation in the city.”

The mayor, who has actively supported mass demonstrations against the government’s controversial judicial shakeup, added, “Together, we will protect Tel Aviv-Jaffa against those who try to destroy our democracy and freedom.”

Asaf Zamir (L) and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (Facebook, August 28, 2023)

Zamir was once seen as Huldai’s protégé, but the two had a falling out exacerbated by Zamir’s election challenge in 2018. Huldai did not mention the deputy mayor, his main challenger, during his victory speech.

Huldai and Zamir’s joint slate is facing off against at least four other challengers in the fall race. Chief among them is former Yesh Atid lawmaker Orna Barbivai, who quit the Knesset earlier this month to focus on the Tel Aviv race, where she is running on Yesh Atid’s ticket.

Barbivai cast the Huldai-Zamir alliance as boys’ club-style nepotism, writing on X that, “Anyone who thinks that Tel Aviv is something that two men hand down by inheritance in anti-democratic deals has probably lost all connection with reality and what this city represents.”

Yesh Atid lawmaker Orna Barbivai announces her run for Tel Aviv mayor, from an event space overlooking the Tel Aviv Municipality, June 21, 2023. (Credit: Elad Gutman)

Launching her campaign in June, Barbivai has said that the city needs fresh blood. Reaffirming her stance that it was time for Huldai to move aside, she told the Ynet news site last week, “A 25-year tenure in this public position is completely out of proportion, certainly in a liberal camp that wants to limit the term of prime minister.”

She also criticized Huldai as being out of touch, saying “he does not consider people in recent years and he isn’t experiencing what is happening in his city,” in reference to residents’ complaints about widespread infrastructure and construction projects jamming up the city.

Barbivai insiders have said that Yesh Atid’s municipal election strategy is twofold, focusing both on building power bases in local authorities as a counterweight to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition, and on developing the next level of national party leadership at the municipal level.

The Tel Aviv race, however, is more likely to be framed by local concerns than national ones. In addition to Barbivai and the Huldai-Zamir alliance, three other candidates have declared for the fall election: businessman and former lawmaker Yuval Zellner, Tel Aviv councilwoman Zippi Brand, and another of Huldai’s former deputy mayors, Reuven Ladianski.

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