A few hours before Yom Kippur began, I met with Major General (res.) Orna Barbivai, who is running for mayor of Tel Aviv, for a special interview that will be published this weekend in the "Shabbat" supplement. Before we parted, she had hoped that the fraught day would pass peacefully, but after the sun went down we landed on hard ground.
"The reaction in the square does not come in a vacuum," she said when we spoke after the Dizengoff Square events. "We expect the liberal public to be inclusive, to behave appropriately, and I say that democracy is eroding before our eyes because we have accepted this for years.
Clashes at prayer in Tel Aviv // Photo: Avi Cohen
"They said, 'We don't want to enlist,' we said we would serve. They said, 'We won't pay taxes,' we paid. When they asked why I left national politics, I said that I understood Tel Aviv as the fortress and if it fell, it would be easier to hit other cities. This example proves that there is a tangible, strategic threat to the character of the city," she said.
"Can understand them"
She added: "They come to your yard, to your square, and on their heads they declare 'a Jewish state at democratic expense.' So I can understand the reaction and I'm still sorry that the result is like this, because no one likes to see such scenes, especially on Yom Kippur."
According to Barbivai, the Torah nuclei that settled in the center have an address in Tel Aviv. "The one who lets them in is the municipality," she explained. "After all, they come with permission. There was a unity day here a month ago. Young guys, wearing a kippah, who said, 'We want to talk.' I went to talk. Great guys, but I explained, 'The one who comes here is also Rabbi Kostiner, who says that LGBT people are evil and that women can't serve in the army. It is impossible to talk about unity, to bring such a person and think that he will be accepted with understanding.' Here you have to have a wall in shape.
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"What is liberalism? Freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I want a kippah wearer to feel as good as anyone else in town, but not at the expense of others. They want to increase existing seating here dramatically. I was sitting with someone at a nearby playground and she said, 'I'm not sure we can raise our children here.'"
"The public feels threatened"
According to her, "Why does the concession have to come from the side that lives here? It is possible to live side by side, but not at the expense of the other, and usually the one who gives up is the liberal side. The public reacts strongly because it feels threatened, and I say that as mayor I will make sure that there are no organizations here that do not act according to the liberal spirit."
Orna was born in Ramle, grew up in Afula, lived for many years in Reut, but for the past six years has moved to north Tel Aviv with Moshe, her husband. Now she is fighting a battle against Ron Huldai, who has ruled the city for the past 25 years.
Huldai. "The risks had to be defined", photo: Joshua Yosef
"The preparations for the event in the square were negligent and the confrontation could have been avoided," Barbivai is convinced. "The mayor had to delineate the risks and scenarios and make sure there was oversight. I voted for Huldai five years ago, but I think he just got tired and you can see that in every parameter. I keep saying that if I lose the election, it will only be because of me."
The full interview - Friday in the "Shabbat" supplement
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