High Court approves Tiberias mayor’s ouster over failure to pass budget
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High Court approves Tiberias mayor’s ouster over failure to pass budget

Northern city to be run by Interior Ministry-appointed city council for next three years until new election called

Ron Cobi, mayor of Tiberias seen outside Tiberias municipality building in northern Israel, April 1, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Ron Cobi, mayor of Tiberias seen outside Tiberias municipality building in northern Israel, April 1, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Monday dismissed a petition by controversial Tiberias Mayor Ron Kobi to overturn his dismissal for failing to pass a municipal budget.

Kobi, who was dubbed the “Donald Trump of the north” by Israeli media over his combative style, swept into local office in the fall of 2018 on a campaign that focused on combating the growing ultra-Orthodox community and its influence in the city, highlighted in a series of frequently foulmouthed and menacing Facebook live videos.

However, he failed to form a coalition and with his party making up just six of the city council’s 15 spots, other members refused to get behind his budget proposals, even after he was given an extension until September 30, 2019.

Israeli law allows the interior minister to depose a mayor who is unable to pass a budget for more than a year past his or her election. But due to a personal rivalry Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has had with Kobi, the former handed over jurisdiction on the matter to Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who last month said he had reviewed Kobi and the Tiberias city council’s rationale for being unable to pass a budget and did not find it convincing enough to excuse him.

Following Elkin’s decision, Deri appointed Interior Ministry deputy director Moni Ma’atok to chair a special committee that will run the city for the next three years until the next municipal elections. The council will be made up of other civil servants from the ministry.

In appealing the decision to the High Court, Kobi claimed that his ouster was the result of Benjamin Netanyahu being a “weak prime minister” and accused him of being “Deri’s puppet.”

He also argued that his removal was only possible because of an “archaic and outdated law” that “did not take into account that there could be a corrupt and unprofessional interior minister with interests.”

“Even if ten angels were to have descended from the heavens, the budget would not have passed. The Interior Minister set up a contrarian council to make sure the budget would not pass,” he claimed.

“Nine members of the council did everything in their power to dismiss a mayor, but we fought and will continue to fight like lions.”

In its decision on Monday, the court found that while some of Kobi’s arguments had merit, he had failed to pass a budget and it was within the government’s power to remove him.

Kobi “did not do everything possible to ensure the passage of a budget in a timely manner,” argued Justice Noam Sohlberg, even as he said that members of the municipal council were also responsible for the lack of a budget.

Responding to the decision, Deri said in a statement to residents that although they had gone through a “difficult period,” “today we are all looking ahead with great hope” and his ministry would do all it could to put the city back on track so that it “works for its residents and provides them with the proper services you deserve.”

During his truncated term as mayor, Kobi quickly became the bête noire of the Haredi community after launching free bus lines on Saturdays in the city and expanding entertainment and commercial enterprises permitted to open on the Jewish day of rest, while pledging to restrict housing projects for ultra-Orthodox residents.

Last October, Kobi was attacked by unknown assailants. In March one resident of the city was indicted for sending him threatening messages, and another was arrested for threatening to murder him.

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