An Enemy in the Mayor’s Office

Ron Kobi rode to victory in the mayoral election in Teveria through a brutally slanderous campaign on social media. He had no clearly defined policies or ideology; he did nothing but vilify his opponents. His supporters hoped that he would use his bulldozer-like intensity to restore the city, but they soon discovered that they had elected a disturbed man who does not know how to do anything other than defame anyone he does not like. Kobi did not succeed in establishing a coalition, and the majority that opposes him in the city council has voted down his proposed budgets three times already. According to the law, the Interior Ministry should now disband the municipal council and dismiss the mayor. Kobi himself has been hurling invective at the Interior Minister without cease. Sensing that he is about to be ousted from his position in Teveria, Kobi has now decided to run for the Knesset on a right-wing, anti-religious ticket.

Ron Kobi is perpetually in the news.

“Ron who?” you may be asking, in an echo of the question “Jimmy who?” that you may remember from America in the 1970s. But there is actually no comparison between Ron Kobi and Jimmy Carter, the man who surprised the United States by defeating the incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, in an election. Ron Kobi is a man who we all hope will soon fade into the past; in a few months, if all goes well, he will be remembered as nothing more than a passing aberration in Israeli history.

Actually, there is one characteristic that the two men share. In his old age, Jimmy Carter has proven that the accusations of anti-Semitism that were made against him during his presidency were absolutely true. Similarly, Ron Kobi has made it abundantly clear that he despises religious Jews.

Today, Ron Kobi is the mayor of Teveria. During the municipal election campaign, it was clear that he was an oddity. Some considered him entertaining, while others viewed him as a threat. Some saw him as charming, while others thought he was deranged, but everyone agreed that he was unusual. The chareidi community was so confident that he would not win the election that they allowed two chareidi candidates to run for the office of mayor, without fear of the consequences of dividing their vote. There was also a candidate from the Likud party named Yossi Ben-David, who had already been the mayor of Teveria and stood an excellent chance of being reelected. No one had the slightest doubt that the election would be won either by Ben-David or by one of the chareidi candidates. Instead, Ron Kobi was the winner.

The people of Teveria were astonished when the results were announced, and their shock only grew more intense as the days went by. It did not take long for them to recognize that the newly-elected mayor was a man who would not easily be handled. Ron Kobi was eccentric, bizarre, and possibly on the border of madness. Many people suggested that he should have a psychiatric evaluation. What is most incredible about Kobi is that he himself is responsible for making himself into a laughingstock. In his most recent videos, one can find people shouting at him and hurling a wide range of epithets at him. Yet, for some indecipherable reason, Kobi himself makes those videos available to the public.

The man himself is coarse, brutal, vocal, and a bully. Here is a portion of one of his diatribes: “They took this city and simply sold it, and they are continuing to give it away to the Litvishe chassidim [sic] from Bnei Brak. To the chassidishe communities! This city is being turned into a city of people who despise the State of Israel, a city of chassidim, of Toldos Aharon and Toldos Avrohom, and anyone else who comes here to invest in apartments… And there is much more that we are not being told. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I am ashamed of this city. I am ashamed of the leadership of this city. I am also ashamed of the opposition. They have sold this city to the highest bidder. They want to turn this city into Meah Shearim, into a place for Satmar chassidim and Toldos Aharon, and all those chassidishe groups of enemies of Israel. Soon enough, they will be spitting at women in the street. That is what we have come to!”

A NEIGHBORHOOD THUG

Ron Kobi’s trademark weapon is the use of social media and videos that he personally records. He keeps a camera with him everywhere he goes, and he uses it to record either himself or one of his friends. He walks around recording videos and talking into the camera as he moves, and that is how he spreads his messages. It was with those videos that he won the election; he used that platform to brutally defame the previous mayor of the city. He portrays himself as an angel who has come to save the city of Teveria, and he has also used his videos to denigrate and slander the chareidi community in unprecedented ways, with the most despicable rhetoric imaginable. In the past, people laughed at him and dismissed him, but it seems that his strategies worked. After all, he won the election.

After that victory, though, Kobi was exposed as an unmitigated failure. All he managed to do was sour the atmosphere in the city and create a sense of conflict and hostility. At the very beginning of his term, Kobi entered the shul of Rav Auerbach, the rov of Teveria, and tore down letters from the rov that had been posted on the shul’s notice board. Those letters had announced the ruling of Rav Auerbach, the elderly, longstanding mara d’asra, that prohibited collaborating with the mayor. Enraged by the affront, Kobi personally went to the shul and began acting wildly, with a film crew recording his actions as he raged, shouted, and hurled expletives. He also clashed with the Sephardic rov of Teveria in an unprecedented way.

Kobi has also begun taking tangible steps to secularize the city and abrogate the status quo. His most prominent work as mayor—and perhaps the only work he has done—was arranging for a bus that runs on Shabbos from the older neighborhoods of Teveria to the beach and other places of recreation. He also tried to force restaurant owners in the city to open their establishments on Shabbos. His efforts, however, have failed. The Shabbos buses were empty and the stores remained closed on Shabbos, but he has still managed to create an atmosphere of incitement and tension in the city.

At first, there were residents of Teveria who were very excited about Kobi. Finally, they felt, they had a mayor who would restore the city to the way it had been when the chareidi presence was far less prominent. They expected secular tourists to flood the city, which would lead Teveria to become a destination of choice for vacationers and would bring an influx of funds into the city coffers. But all of their expectations were shattered, and none of Kobi’s efforts were successful. Before long, people began realizing that he had hoodwinked them, that he was no more than an average neighborhood thug. He had deceived them; he had no true substance. And worst of all, he was propelling the city into a decline.

Meanwhile, Kobi continues disseminating videos that border on anti-Semitism. He has also continued responding with hostility to everyone and everything that stands in his way. But at this point, he has a problem. From a professional standpoint, he has failed as a mayor. The city of Teveria is about to be handed over to a committee appointed by the Interior Ministry.

FIGHTING AGAINST SHABBOS

The chareidi community throughout Israel has come to identify with Teveria. The religious Jews of Teveria were not Kobi’s only targets; he has spoken out vociferously against all religious Jews, wherever they may be. His battles against Shabbos and against the rabbonim of the city are not strictly local matters. What began in Teveria can certainly spread to other areas as well. Anti-Semitism, after all, is a highly contagious disease. As a result, there is a consensus in the chareidi community: We all feel embattled, and we all want someone to stand up and put an end to this evil and dangerous phenomenon.

In terms of the battle against chillul Shabbos in Teveria, credit is due to the people of Hidabroot, who arranged for a group of rabbonim to go to the boardwalk in Teveria, near the Kinneret, on a Friday and to visit every store, urging the proprietors to keep their businesses closed on Shabbos. Those efforts paid off: Most of the storeowners agreed to sever all contact with those who are seeking to undermine the observance of Shabbos. The proprietors received the blessings of the visiting rabbonim, along with certificates of appreciation. That was the beginning. One can certainly say that Ron Kobi suffered a stinging defeat in his battle against Shabbos. I will deal with that issue at greater length in a future article.

Another ray of hope for the chareidi community came when the residents of Teveria discovered that despite all his pompous talk, Kobi achieved absolutely nothing. After recovering from their initial fear of him, the religious community of Teveria realized that it is the secular residents of the city who will work against Kobi. In fact, one can say that Ron Kobi himself—or, to be more specific, his mouth—is his own greatest enemy. He began fighting with everyone, including businessmen in Teveria, representatives of the public, members of the city council, and residents who objected to the way he has been managing the city. And that seems to be leading to his undoing.

Kobi managed to become entangled in a conflict with two important forces, which was where his downfall began. First, he antagonized the Interior Ministry. Now, it is true that the Minister of the Interior, Aryeh Deri, is chareidi and a member of the Shas party, and that he is outraged by Kobi’s brutish behavior, but every mayor is supposed to remain on cordial terms with the Interior Minister. Even if a mayor does not get along with the minister himself, he should still avoid antagonizing the director-general of the ministry or its other senior members. At the very least, if he cannot help but be hostile and aggressive toward all those people, he should at least maintain a good relationship with the official who is his direct overseer—in this case, the supervisor of the northern district of the country, Boaz Yosef, who is not even a religious man. But Kobi managed to make enemies of most, if not all, of those people. He is certainly on poor terms with Deri, whom he never stops maligning, and he has clashed with other officials in the ministry, as well.

A mayor should also remain on positive terms with the members of the municipal council. Kobi, however, has managed with great ease to find himself on the worst possible terms with the Teveria city council. The situation has reached the point that he failed to assemble a coalition, which is almost unheard of. I doubt that there is any other city in which the mayor does not have a coalition in the municipal council. The fact that there is a majority in the city council against the mayor should actually lead to his being ousted from office, since the law states that if a city does not manage to approve an annual budget, the municipal government must be dissolved. The first stage is for the Interior Minister to dismiss the members of the city council, and the next step is for the mayor to be fired. At that point, the Interior Ministry designates an appointed committee and a substitute mayor to govern the city.

Last Tuesday, Kobi had his third opportunity to have his annual budget approved. He had failed on his first two tries, and, of course, he had heaped abuse on the heads of the municipal council members for rejecting his budget, but his vitriol did nothing to improve his situation. After his second failure, Kobi released a video in which he proclaimed, “There is chaos in the city. Today, at last, it is time to say Kaddish for Teveria.”

The deadline for the approval of a municipal budget is June 30. Kobi therefore convened the city council last Tuesday, but his budget was once again rejected by a majority of the council, just as everyone expected. Today, Kobi announced that he has scheduled another council session for the last day of the month, in the hope that he will succeed in passing a budget this time. His chances, however, are nil.

HOSTILITY IN CITY HALL

I received a detailed report of the city council meeting last Tuesday. Ron Kobi sat at the head of the table, with Boaz Yosef seated beside him. Two weeks earlier, Kobi had received a warning letter from Boaz Yosef. It was the most official-sounding document imaginable, written with painstaking care, on the presumption that every piece of correspondence on the issue will eventually be reviewed by the Supreme Court. The letter warned Kobi that if the municipal budget is not approved by the end of the month of June, various steps are likely to be taken, including the possible dismissal of the current mayor, the members of the city council, or both, in the event that the ministry decides to appoint a committee to govern the city. “As of today,” Yosef wrote, “the budget for the city has not yet been approved. If it is not approved by June 30, 2019, the ministry will be forced to act in accordance with the directives of paragraph 206 of the Municipal Ordinance… I appeal to you to make every possible effort for the budget to be approved, so that we will not have to implement the measures specified by the law.” Yosef added that no extensions will be granted; the deadline is immutable. It should be noted, though, that the Interior Ministry does have another option: Instead of dismissing the mayor and the city council and replacing them with a designated committee, the law authorizes the ministry to call for new municipal elections.

Kobi was unmistakably tense during the city council session. He was also uncharacteristically restrained. Many people heckled him derisively during the meeting, shouting a variety of barbs and insults. (A few choice examples: “You’ve destroyed the city!” “Get out of here!” “Liar!” “Zero!” “You should be ashamed!” “I voted for you; what did I get out of it?”) The council members spoke professionally, discussing the city’s property taxes and cleanliness, while Kobi listened in silence. It was evident that his self-restraint was taking a toll on his nerves, but Kobi found it important to maintain a dignified façade while his superiors in the Interior Ministry sat beside him.

It was a historic city council session, and it was also marked by intense passion. One after another, the members of the opposition addressed the council, headed by the former mayor, Yossi Ben-David (whom Kobi had unseated through a campaign of social media videos consisting of vitriolic defamation). Along with Ben-David, the chareidi and national religious members of the opposition addressed the council, making an effort to focus on professional issues rather than religious matters. They made their presentations with great skill. Yossi Ben-David had clearly done his homework, and in the presence of the district supervisor from the Ministry of the Interior, he demonstrated that Kobi’s proposed budget was a work of fiction, utterly impossible to implement. He went through it one paragraph at a time, demonstrating how it made a mockery of the city council, how it had slashed funding for the city’s most vital needs, and, most importantly, how it was based on presumed revenues that the city does not yet possess.

Here is one example: “You wrote here,” Ben-David said, “that the city’s budget will be increased through the revenues generated by an additional 260 paid parking spaces. I ask you: Where are those 260 parking spaces? Whom are you trying to fool? You never received approval from the Planning Committee for them!” Kobi tried to silence him, and Ben-David turned to Boaz Yosef for his backing. Tensions were running high in the room.

Along with Yossi Ben-David, Rabbi Dovid Ochana of Degel HaTorah effectively turned Kobi into a laughingstock. “I would ask you how your hand didn’t tremble when you signed this twisted budget, but I won’t ask you that,” Ochana said. “Do you know why? Because I don’t believe that you even know how to read the numbers. You have no idea what is written in the budget!” He continued taking apart the proposal, demonstrating how every paragraph was either an error or a deliberate misinterpretation. “Where are the funds for educational activities?” he demanded angrily. “How can it be that there is no budget for that purpose? You promised that we would receive a report on the city’s income and expenses, but that never happened. This city is being neglected; no one is tending to its needs. How did we end up with such a large deficit? Instead of sharing videos on social media, you should have been going to the government ministries. You certainly shouldn’t have been bashing the Interior Minister and the appointed officials,” he added.

Ochana also made mention of the mayor’s deplorable behavior toward the chareidim. “There is a chareidi community center in this city,” he said, “and there isn’t a single mention of it in the budget. Not even one shekel has been allocated for that facility, which was built with an investment of hundreds of thousands of shekels. At the same time, we have seen all of your propaganda. It began with chillul Shabbos, and it continued with the defamation of an entire community, whom you accuse of throwing garbage in the streets and dirtying the city. So I can understand that that was your approach to the budget, as well.”

Kobi squirmed uncomfortably as Ochana quoted many of his public statements. Indeed, it sounded fairly awful. Ochana mentioned a video in which Kobi had claimed that if the chareidi populace of the city increases, the city itself will collapse. Then he continued, “I am embarrassed to be reading this, and I ask the district supervisor to forgive me for doing so. This is something that Kobi said: ‘You are a bunch of zeros in the Ministry of the Interior. I am going to take you to the Supreme Court. I will teach you a lesson, one at a time. You will have to work by the law, instead of flexing your muscles against the law. Twenty-two percent of the people of this city want to milk the city coffers and extract everything they can get from it.’

“But let me conclude with some kind wishes,” Ochana said. “I wish Ron Kobi the best of luck in his race for a seat in the Knesset—because then he will leave Teveria!”

This comment elicited uproarious laughter from everyone present, including the district supervisor. The other members of the city council interjected, “Don’t speak for us! We don’t wish him success anywhere!”

But Ron Kobi is made of incomprehensible stuff. He refused to apologize. Instead, he rebuffed the city council. He asserted that he is proud of having organized public transportation on Shabbos, and he promised, “We will continue with it, be’ezrat Hashem.” Yes, those were the very words he used.

To the chareidim, he said, “You have taken religion to use as a weapon.” He warned the city council members not to “put on a show,” and they responded with indignation, “Who are you to talk about that?”

After an exhausting five hours, the meeting finally drew to a close. Kobi asked, “Who is in favor of the budget that was presented here this evening, for the benefit of Teveria, its residents, its citizens, and its future? Please raise your hands.” Six hands were raised in favor of the budget, while nine votes were cast against it. The residents of the city who had gathered to watch the proceedings applauded loudly. Kobi rose to his feet and shouted, “This is a black day for Teveria! Thank you to the rabbonim with their incitement, to the members of the Knesset and the government ministers! We will see you in the Knesset, after the next elections, and we will make sure this does not happen again.”

The response was a hail of derisive shouts. “Go home!” the people called. “You are an embarrassment!”

COMPETITION FOR LIEBERMAN

This brings us to the next battle that Kobi will fight: the race for a seat in the Knesset. He has one problem: Avigdor Lieberman has already positioned himself as the champion of the secular right. That has even been the message of his campaign in the past. This seems to make the situation ripe for an outright war between Lieberman and Kobi. Indeed, that is precisely what is happening. Kobi proclaimed that Lieberman does nothing but talk, and Lieberman responded that Kobi is a clown. Lieberman’s most serious argument, which may actually be correct, is that Kobi is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s straw man, who was set up to steal votes from Yisroel Beiteinu. The second-in-command of Lieberman’s party, Oded Forer, challenged the prime minister to reveal whether he has met secretly with Kobi at any time during the past three weeks. The Likud rejected the theory as paranoid speculation.

Is Kobi actually working for Netanyahu? That may or may not be the case, but as far as the chareidim are concerned, his presence on the electoral playing field is a good thing. Everyone will be pleased if Kobi and Lieberman continue to cross swords and their conflict costs both of them their seats in the Knesset. For now, Kobi has launched an aggressive anti-religious campaign, in his typical unbalanced and coarse style. “We will do great things in the Knesset,” he announced. “Have patience. We will not allow anyone to harm the State of Israel, even at the cost of a political war against Aryeh Deri and against the chareidim who are pillaging the State of Israel. We have had enough!” With that, his voice rose to a scream. “The salvation will come from Teveria! The war against chareidi coercion will come from Teveria! It is all over now,” he said ominously. “When I denounce the chareidim, people say that I am a racist. What racism? Did anyone see what Meron looked like? Did anyone see the mess that they left in the streets there? There were mountains upon mountains of garbage. So I say to you: Yes, they are filthy people who have dirtied their entire surroundings and nothing will absolve them of that. They have no concern for the environment. You should be ashamed of yourselves! Don’t tell me that this is incitement or racism. It is the truth!” That is Ron Kobi and the level of his rhetoric.

Kobi receives abundant media attention. Even though many understand that he is not exactly a successful political leader, they enjoy his tongue-lashings directed at the chareidi community. This week, he proclaimed, “The entire story of the battle against religious coercion began in Teveria. For instances, there are the Shabbos buses. They understand very well what we have done. Now, why do we need another party? Because Lieberman isn’t stable. We haven’t seen him being consistent. Do you see what he did in Yerushalayim? He joined forces with Aryeh Deri before the municipal elections!” That, of course, was a reference to their joint support of Moshe Leon.

With his incessant attacks on Deri, Kobi hopes to elicit a sharp response. That way, when he is dismissed from his position in Teveria, he can claim that Deri fired him for personal and political reasons. “Tell me,” he said to an interviewer on the day after his budget was defeated, “do you think that we are fools? You have to understand what is happening in Teveria. Aryeh Deri is brutally interfering and trying to gain ground in the election. After yesterday, when the entire nation saw how one small city council interests an entire country, you must realize that there was a reason for it. It is because we established the secular right, which is drawing votes away from the Likud, from Lieberman, and from Gantz.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be summoned to a hearing before Deri?” the interviewer asked him.

Kobi flew into a rage. “My legal advisor says that if he calls me to a hearing, he will receive a serious blow in the Supreme Court,” he declared. “If Aryeh Deri orders a hearing for me, I will win fifteen mandates in the Knesset. The fight against religious coercion is beginning in Teveria. We will fight the chareidi coercion that has overcome the secular public. We aren’t against religion,” he insisted. “We are against Aryeh Deri and his rabbonim, who are responsible for the coercion here.” He also mocked Lieberman. “We are intimidating Lieberman. He is shaking with fear. He has done a poll, and he understands that Ron Kobi is going to exceed five mandates.”

Kobi declared that his intention is to take Deri’s place as Minister of the Interior, to drive the chareidim out of the government, and to cause the Likud to see that they are “mistaken” in allying themselves with the chareidim.

Now you understand who Ron Kobi is, why he is constantly in the news, and why his specter will remain with us until the elections. The entire country is waiting until then, hoping that he will meet his downfall and return to obscurity—along with Avigdor Lieberman.

RAV CHAIM’S PREDICTION

About a month ago, the people of Teveria—and the rest of the country as well—began to understand that Ron Kobi is not only an oddity, but actually a dangerous man. Someone decided that Rav Chaim Kanievsky should be informed of what is taking place in Teveria. After all, Rav Chaim had visited the city during the previous election campaign. (Kobi actually tried to torpedo that visit, and he later came to the rally to try to create a provocation.)

Rav Chaim’s grandson informed him that the mayor of Teveria is attempting to strip his city of its kedusha, to see to it that stores will open and public transportation will operate on Shabbos. Rav Chaim’s reacted with visible anguish. His response was terse but telling: “He will have a major downfall.”