We ought to ask ourselves whether we would want to have Benzi Gopstein, the leader of the extreme right-wing Lahav movement, as deputy mayor in a liberal city such as Tel Aviv. Would excuses such as "freedom of expression" and "this is a democracy" be accepted? There is no legal impediment to such an appointment, but not everything that is legal is appropriate.
The statements made by Raja Za'atara, a Hadash Party member who is set to become deputy mayor of Haifa, are well-known and repugnant. The man's statements place him somewhere between the butcher of Damascus Bashar Assad and Hezbollah, whom he supports.
In most respects, his remarks are even more severe than those made by Gopstein. If the Left does not clearly and unequivocally renounce him, they are giving the stamp of approval to a man who supports terrorism.
Notably, Za'atara has already been suspended in the past by his own party, Hadash, for sexist statements he made against his fellow party member, so it is hard to understand why Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem is having difficulty comprehending something Za'atara's own party already understands.
On Sunday, the mayor rejected outright an appeal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the appointment. What an enlightened woman.
The main issue is the relations between Jews and Arabs in the city of Haifa. For years, Haifa has been presented as a model for co-existence. That is exactly why Za'atara's appointment is disgraceful, because this is a person who has made statements of incitement.
It is true that there would always be Jews who act as advocates, because they view themselves as anti-racism, enlightened and sophisticated. But they turn their backs the moment it comes to anti-Israel or anti-Zionist hate.
The more serious problem is that the appointment of Za'atara sends a message to extremists and racists. This is the way to advance while moderates cower in fear. Those who seek real coexistence on the basis of equality in rights and duties understand that it is not worthwhile. That's not how coexistence is achieved. This is not how equality and cooperation are promoted. Anyone who believes that ISIS learned from Zionism seeks to promote hatred not equality.
Unfortunately, Za'atara is not alone. He represents most of the political leadership of Israeli Arabs. And that precisely is the tragedy. There is a gap between the polls examining the positions of Israeli Arabs and the positions of the political leadership. The public, even according to the polls done by the Israel Institute for Democracy and by Professor Sammy Smooha, is much more moderate than the leadership.
Most of the Arab public is choosing Israelization. But the political leadership is mainly seeking defiance. In order to promote fair relations between Jews and Arabs, in Haifa and in all of Israel, it is necessary to prevent the appointment of agitators such as Za'atara. Mayor Kalisch-Rotem thinks differently. This does not promote coexistence; it destroys it.