Raja Za'tara (left)
Raja Za'tara (left)Courtesy

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav on Monday cancelled the appointment of Hadash Party representative Raja Za'tara as his deputy, after the appointment was met with sharp criticism.

Za'tara has previously spoken out in favor of Hamas. When asked in the past if Hamas is a terrorist organization, he replied, "No, of course not. Hamas is a legitimate part of the Palestinian people."

The Hadash Party has been offered to replace him with another candidate who would accept the position of deputy mayor and, if it refuses, its participation in the coalition would be cancelled.

The decision was preceded by a conversation between Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose faction is part of the emerging coalition, and Mayor Yahav.

Hadash had pledged to Yahav, who himself spoke out during his election campaign against the party, that they will not deny the existence of the State of Israel or support an armed resistance of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel during their time as members of the Haifa City Council, no matter the role in which they serve.

Smotrich responded and said, "I praise the mayor of Haifa, Yona Yahav, for accepting my request and canceling Za'tara’s appointment as deputy mayor. Today more than ever it is clear that coexistence can only be achieved with those who accept our existence as a Jewish and democratic state and not with anti-Zionist terror supporters who normalize Hamas and work against the State of Israel."

Earlier, Za'tara’s appointment was met with wide criticism, including by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir who said, "Hezbollah and BDS supporter Raja Za’tara should not be appointed deputy mayor of Haifa. His place is in Lebanon with his friends and not in the coalition of a city in the State of Israel. The mayor of Haifa should be ashamed of this decision and not celebrate it."

MK Dan Illouz (Likud), a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said, "The fact that an official in Israel is a definite supporter of terrorism is a shame, even on a normal day and especially after the seventh of October. Already several weeks ago, I submitted a bill that would prevent such incidents and I plan to advance it in the next session. Supporters of terrorism and instigators of terrorism will not hold key positions in the State of Israel. No more."

The chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu Knesset faction, MK Oded Forer, also responded to the appointment of Za’tara and said, "The criminal appointment of a supporter of terrorism as deputy mayor of Haifa, the same one who expressed his support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the BDS movement, could have been prevented. I regret that the mayor of Haifa preferred to form a coalition together with a supporter of terrorism, over a Zionist faction such as Haifa Beytenu led by Tatiana Dzhunj.”