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Tel Aviv mayor to form new left-wing party to run in March elections

Ron Huldai confirms entry into national political arena, says he’ll launch campaign Tuesday night reaching out to those who ‘feel they have no home in the current political system’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai attends a Tel Aviv city council meeting, January 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai attends a Tel Aviv city council meeting, January 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Longtime Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai confirmed Monday that he will run in the upcoming elections, announcing that he will unveil a new dovish political party that aims to reach out to Israelis who “feel they have no home in the current political system.”

“Tomorrow evening, the mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ron Huldai, will officially announce his entry into the national political system and the establishment of a new party,” a spokesperson for Huldai said in a statement, released after reports on the unveiling of the new party.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israelis feel they have no home in the current political system. We will raise their heads and give them back their hope,” Huldai was quoted as saying in the statement.

With the dissolution of the Knesset after the government failed to pass a budget last week, Israel goes to national elections on March 23.

“After being joined by a number of key figures in the Israeli public, it was time to present a clear alternative,” Huldai added in his statement, without elaborating.

Huldai, 76, who has run Tel Aviv for the last 22 years, has been linked to former military chief Gadi Eisenkot, also reported to be considering entering politics. An October report by Channel 12 said that the two had agreed to run together, but had yet to decide who would take the first slot on a party slate and who the second.

Eisenkot has since been linked to a number of other possibly parties.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, is interviewed by Amos Yadlin at the Institute for National Security Studies annual conference in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2019. (INSS)

According to a poll released by Channel 12 on Sunday, a theoretical new center-left party including Huldai, Labor leader Amir Peretz, Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn, and former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah could gain up to seven seats, weakening primarily Yesh Atid and Blue and White.

While Huldai is a Labor party stalwart, the once-political giant which founded the State of Israel has all but collapsed under Peretz, following his decision first to join with Meretz in the previous election, and then to split from the left-wing faction to join the government headed by Likud’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 2018, Huldai secured a fifth term leading the country’s economic hub, fending off an 11th-hour surge from upstart deputy-turned-rival Asaf Zamir, who went on to join the centrist Blue and White party, and served as tourism minister before resigning in October and leaving the party this week.

Huldai was born in 1944 on Kibbutz Hulda in central Israel, which gave the family its name. He had a long career in the army and was principal of the prestigious Herzliya Gymnasium high school in Tel Aviv for six years, before becoming mayor in 1998.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai speaking at an education conference in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

He grew up in the Labor party, and to many on the left represents the last vestige of the old Labor guard who can still muster election wins — even if only in the secular left-wing bastion of Tel Aviv.

He announced in May that he plans to leave municipal politics and run in the next national election. “What is happening in Israel terrifies me. I can’t stand by,” he said at the time.

He reiterated those aspiration in October, saying he was even willing to play second fiddle to a new left-wing leader if it meant ousting Netanyahu. “If my being number 2 to someone will contribute to ousting this government, I’ll be there,” he told Channel 12 in an interview.

Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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