JERUSALEM – The right-wing mayor of Upper Nazareth has raised eyebrows by claiming to defend the Jewish character of his northern Israel town through the banning of Christmas trees from public spaces and by blocking the opening of an Arab school.
So as he faces reelection this fall, it wasn't that surprising that Mayor Shimon Gapso's track record was the focus of a series of negative posters hung around the city last week, labeling him a racist and a proponent of apartheid.
What was suprising, however, was the identity of those behind the attack ads: the mayor's own campaign.
Gapso, one of Israel’s most provocative city officials, launched the fake campaign against himself, apparently in an attempt to spark a public debate about his record that he could then respond to.
The "attack" ads included pictures of leading Arab Knesset members and leftist Israeli politicians, with slogans like “Throw the mayor out,” and “We must get rid of Shimon Gapso."
He launched his "response" Monday, with one poster reading, "Upper Nazareth will be Jewish forever. No more shutting our eyes, no more grabbing on to the law allowing every citizen to live where they want. This is the time to defend our home."
There’s also a YouTube video with caricatures of Arab Israeli lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi speaking in broken Hebrew about how much they can’t stand Gapso.
Gapso disclosed on this Facebook page Monday that his campaign was behind both sets of posters.
The pseudo-campaign slug-out may also serve as a convenient distraction to a state comptroller report criticizing Gapso’s management and allegations that some of his policies have violated city regulations, Israeli newspaper Haaretz said.
Until recently Gapso was best know for banning Christmas trees from schools and public spaces, even though some of the city’s Arab citizens are Christian and the town is located next to the ancient town of Nazareth, where Christians believe Jesus lived.
An estimated 20% of Upper Nazareth’s 50,000 residents are Arab.
Last week he defended his opposition to opening an Arab-language school in the city, telling AFP, “Nazareth Illit is a Jewish city and it will not happen -- not this year and not next year, so long as I am a mayor."