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Popular General Doffs His Uniform, Announces Bid to Become Haifa Mayor

Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, a popular if controversial Israel Defense Force general who retired from his military career last week, has announced he will run for mayor of Haifa.

Mitzna said he would decide within the next few days whether to compete in the Labor Party primaries for the mayoral candidate or whether to run as an independent.

Mitzna attracted national attention as a colonel during the war in Lebanon when he wrote a letter to the army’s chief of staff asking that he be suspended from his duties because of his “lack of confidence” on the political level.

The letter, which was subsequently leaked to the news media, was clearly referring to then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.

In parting interviews this weekend, Mitzna said he took some of the credit for Sharon’s subsequent removal from the Defense Ministry, following recriminations leveled at the defense establishment in the aftermath of the September 1982 massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon.

Mitzna, who has been known in Israel as a dovish army general, said he was hounded by rightist political forces while serving as the army’s chief commander of the central front in the late 1980s.

As part of that job, Mitzna was responsible for security in the West Bank when the intifada broke out in December 1987.

Mitzna’s decision on whether to run as a Labor candidate or as an independent apparently depends whether the incumbent mayor, Labor’s Arye Gurel, decides to step aside.

Local polls show a high percentage of satisfaction with municipal services, but only a low level of support, 22 percent, for Gurel.

COMPLAINTS ABOUT ‘PARACHUTERS’

Mitzna’s announcement that he was entering politics comes just weeks after word leaked out that the nation’s chief of police, Yaacov Terner, had been discussing with Labor Party officials his possible political career as Labor candidate for the mayorship of Tel Aviv or Beersheba.

In the ensuing scandal, many Israelis said that senior military or security officials should not be discussing their political futures while still in uniform.

As a result of the outcry, Terner was forced to resign his post earlier than he had previously intended. His resignation will take effect at Passover, and he is expected to run for mayor of Beersheba.

Like Mitzna, Terner was a decorated military leader. He was a senior air force officer before taking over the top spot on the national police force.

Although Israel, like many other countries, has a long history of military leaders becoming politicians, Mitzna’s and Terner’s immediate jump from uniformed officer to political candidate has some Israelis complaining about such “parachuters.”

Supporters of the so-called parachuters cite the famous examples of Ezer Weizman and Ariel Sharon, both of whom immediately joined the front ranks of the Likud party after ending military careers, and Haim Bar-Lev and Mordechai Gur, who similarly swapped their jobs as generals for Labor Party Knesset seats.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, though, served as ambassador to the United States between his army retirement and entry into politics.

The “parachuting” phenomenon has been declining to some extent in recent years, in response to a greater sensitivity regarding “separation of powers” and a repeated condemnation of politicization in the civil and military services.

Now, however, with the introduction of direct elections for mayors and other electoral reforms, party leaders are tempted to support popularly known, charismatic military figures to run for key public offices.

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