Although once a Member of Knesset, Mayor Ron Nachman had no plans to run in Israel’s 2013 national elections. After all, he didn’t need to: Ron Nachman built a city.
In 1972 he founded the pioneering “nucleus” (6,000 people instead of the customary ten to twenty families); in 1978 he led the first families atop an empty mountain; in 1985 he became Ariel’s first mayor; and in 2013 he left the world a gift which it has yet to learn to love.
Ron was nominally curious about the upcoming elections, but in no way stirred. As usual, many of the candidates were his friends, while some were his rivals. But when the media is focused on the competition between his longtime partner, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and his recent colleague, Naftaly Bennett, the main event becomes rather uneventful.
Mayor Nachman’s greatness is not to be measured in the company of his friends, rather through the considered responses of his foes. Ron was both the envy and admiration of his greatest political adversaries. An unstoppable success story, attention gradually mounted as Mayor Nachman continued to create the unthinkable. House by house, facility by facility, dream by dream, Ron Nachman dared to build an Israeli city in what much of the world referred to as “the occupied West Bank” and what he referred to as Israel’s pupik (bellybutton). While international ire grew, Ron remained steadfast with his charismatic simplicity.
There’s nothing Ron enjoyed more than boasting Ariel’s achievements in front of a group of international journalists. He wanted the world to see what they refused to believe. The opportunities were abundant, as there was always something new to report about. The construction of homes, the establishment of industrial parks, mass absorption of Russian olim (immigrants), a boycott of the Center for the Performing Arts and the recognition of Ariel University – to name a few. Ron was always a colorful interview, and an unwavering adversary.
Indeed, arguing with Ron never took anyone very far. In his 1987 New York Times article about Ron, Thomas Friedman wrote:
As he headed back to his office, the tour over, a cement-mixer truck almost squeezed his car off the road. Mr. Nachman barely flinched. ‘I love those big trucks,’ he said. ‘I love that concrete.’
Like it or not, it’s difficult to argue with big trucks and concrete.
Zehava Galon – the leader of the proudly pro-Palestinian and anti-settlement Meretz party – could have accepted the challenge, but she didn’t want to. When invited to debate Mayor Nachman during a Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations visit to Ariel, Ms. Galon refused the opportunity. She had nothing personal against Ron, and she wouldn’t disrespect him by engaging in a mutual bickering session on his turf. The Member of Knesset who did turn up proved a rather disappointing opponent. Though firmly committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state in Samaria, he insisted that he has the greatest respect for Mayor Ron Nachman, and suggested that Ron should be awarded the Israel Prize.
Although challenged in the arena of public opinion, Ariel was never truly threatened when it came to realpolitik. While President Jimmy Carter was brokering peace with the Egyptians, the U.S. State Department came to an “understanding” that Ariel would be established to extend Israel’s narrow waistline. Then Minister-of-Defense Shimon Peres signed the authorization papers. Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert, who offered Palestinian statehood on 97%-99% of disputed lands, never even considered compromising Ariel’s consensus status. And today, with the electorate moving increasingly towards a pillar-of-defense-capable Israel, Ariel is clearly here to stay.
Politicians will come and go, but true leaders never die. The mark of a great man is in the admiration that his rivals bestow upon him, and the mark of a great leader is in his ability to realize accomplishments that will survive him.
Ron always knew how to make an entrance. Now, on the eve of Israel’s elections, he’s showing the world that he knows how to make an exit as well.
May his memory be forever blessed.