Jerusalem: Pomp and realities

 There was pomp and ceremony on Jerusalem Day, celebrated here according to the Hebrew calendar, followed by more pomp and ceremony for the opening the US Embassy in Jerusalem. Some days later were the lesser ceremonies for the new Embassies of Guatemala and Paraguay.   The government also decided on major investments in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.   One wonders if whatever is done will attract Jerusalem Arabs toward Israel and away from the abject failures of the Palestinian national leaderships to accomplish their bombastic aims.   Governing Jerusalem is problematic in the extreme. Two major population segments weigh heavily on anyone aspiring to leadership. Secular Jews in the city can argue if the Arabs are more or less problematic than the Haredim.   Jerusalem‘s Arabs and Haredim (i.e., ultra-Orthodox) produce the highest levels of poverty for any Israeli city, and both are outside of the circle where politicians can expect a conventional trade of goodies for support.   The Haredim are already threatening to spoil Israel‘s Eurovision party, scheduled for a year from the recent victory of Netta Barzilai. The spectacular must occur on Saturday, i.e., Shabbat. And there are some wanting it in the Holy City, where the ultra-Orthodox are one-third of the Jewish population.   The overwhelming majority of the city‘s Arab population, some 40 percent of the total, absorbed as a result of the 1967 war, have refused to ask for Israeli citizenship. And while they can vote as residents in municipal elections, very few of them (often as low as 10 percent) have done so.   According to the unwritten rule of democratic politics, those who don‘t vote should not complain about what they do not get.   Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are the scuzziest of the city, with unpaved roads and irregular trash collection. Some of them are also centers of violence. Some of that is directed against nearby Jews, and has resulted in police control at neighborhood exits. We‘ve learned to go to sleep to the sound of gun fire and stun grenades coming from nearby Isaweea and Shuafat. Some of the violence is directed inward. A friend who lives in the upscale Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina has been reluctant to leave home after dark, out of fear from the crossfire between warring neighbors.   The Haredim are not a unified group. Some watch television, listen to secular radio, and connect to the Internet. Some of the men work and are willing to serve in the IDF. But many, perhaps most, especially among the Ashkenazim, isolate themselves from other Jews. They aspire to study their whole lives, and make many children, the males of whom are taught that they should study their whole lives. Their rabbis oppose any teaching of mathematics, languages, and God-forbid science in their schools. Although the IDF routinely grants draft exemptions to the Haredim, the extremists among them object even to asking for the exemption, tie up traffic and burn trash dumpsters whenever authorities seek to enforce even a minimum of cooperation with those arrangements.   Unlike the Arabs, the Haredim do vote in both local and national elections, typically as their rabbis dictate. The result is that they are well represented in virtually every national government coalition, and have a lock on what happens in Jerusalem as well as other cities (Bnei Brak, Beit Shemsh, Beitar Elite, Modiin Elite) which they dominate even more than Jerusalem..   Jerusalem‘s population is becoming more Arab and ultra-Orthodox. The Central Bureau of Statistics reported that some 18,000 (mostly secular Jews)  moved out of Jerusalem in 2015, while 8,200 ultra-Orthodox and 7,800 Arabs moved in. Birth rates are higher for the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs than for secular Jews.   Until now, policymaking in Jerusalem has favored the ultra-Orthodox, has sought to keep secular Jews quiet, and has ignored Arab neighborhoods except for the purpose of controlling against violence directed at Jews.   Large ultra-Orthodox families pay little or nothing for property tax and water. The government subsidies the construction of crowded housing in neighborhoods designed for them with a minimum of open space or greenery. Inner roads are closed to traffic on the Sabbath.    Their‘s is a voluntary poverty with–for most of them–high spiritual rewards, along with occasional effort to impose at least part of their norms on the secular population. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis occasionally provoke mass demonstrations–at least partly with an eye to overseas donors–against perceived violations of the Sabbath by stores outside of their neighborhoods or the possibility of violating ancient graves at a building site.   The career of a recent ultra-Orthodox Mayor of Jerusalem ended with his conviction for corruption connected with a real estate development.   Other recent mayors have included the secular Olmert, also snared with the same temptations as the ultra-Orthodox mayor, and the secular Nir Barkat. Barkat can be credited with the success of surviving two terms without a prominent police inquiry.. He recently indicated that he would retire from the municipal government, but would try to enter the Knesset on Likud‘s ticket.   It‘s not easier producing an overall evaluation of Jerusalem than it is to govern the city. It functions as a spiritual capital of three faiths as well as the governmental capital of a successful country.   There‘s no clear metric to judge the issue of the city‘s unity or division against parallel cases of heavily minority cities in the United States or elsewhere.   The Hebrew University has achieved a credible place in the rankings of world institutions, as has the health care provided by the city‘s hospitals and clinics.   Tension comes chronically, especially from dissatisfied Arabs and ultra-Orthodox.   Between bouts of conflict, members of all the city‘s communities shop and work together, with more Arabs than Haredim involved as students and faculty at the Hebrew University, and professional personnel in the medical sector.    In some ultra-Orthodox families, the choice of a child to either attend university or to enlist in the IDF is enough of a problem to stain the marriage prospects of self and siblings.   The failure of any major government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel‘s capital 70 years into the country‘s development must stand as some expression of insult, tinged at least a bit with anti-Semitism. Even the greatness of the US decision in recognizing Jerusalem as an Israeli city and the national capital is tarnished by its lateness in happening, and the continued insistence in marking official documents provided by the Embassy (e.g., birth certificates and passports) as being issued in Jerusalem.  And not–as in other national capitals–in Jerusalem, Israel.   The President may say that Jerusalem is an Israeli city and the national capital, but his State Department isn‘t sure.   Comments welcome

— 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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