Jerusalem of Gold or Jerusalem of Black?

by Maskil on 24 Aug 2008

City of Jerusalem

The traditional distinction between the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem is reflected in the gap between the Ideal Jerusalem – the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people – and the Real Jerusalem as it is today.

Unlike the Ideal Jerusalem, the Real Jerusalem (or at least its unity) looks more and more up for grabs in any deal with the PA. Also unlike the Ideal Jerusalem, the Real Jerusalem is becoming ever more unwelcoming and divorced from the rest of Israel in its demographic composition and political make-up.

What are the likely scenarios for the future of Jerusalem within the internal Israeli context (i.e. leaving aside the conflict with the PA)? Can it still be saved for Israel and remain connected to the (non-Haredi) Jewish people, or do we need to start nominating “candidate cities” for a new capital? There are only really two scenarios, with everything else being something somewhere in between. They are:

Jerusalem of Gold. Some form of non-Haredi coalition manages to take back the city on behalf of its inhabitants (as well as the rest of the country and the Jewish people at large). Industry and a more diverse population balance are gradually restored. This is the option that should be favoured by any one who cares about both the Ideal and the Real Jerusalem.

Jerusalem of Black. More of the same. The ultra-Orthodox hegemony over the city continues and deepens. The secular, traditional and Modern Orthodox continue to flee, along with initiative, enterprise and jobs. The city becomes poorer, more corrupt, disheveled, nepotistic, and more of a burden on the Israeli taxpayer. This looks to be the most likely scenario.

How should Israel – Everyman’s Israel – respond if the 2nd scenario – Jerusalem of Black – prevails? Simply accepting it as a fait accompli is an option, but it pretty much amounts to calling the whole Zionist enterprise a failure. I would suggest instead a more radical response, one that tackles the issue head-on instead of allowing it to fester:

Option 1. Unilaterally declare Jerusalem to now be the capital and territory of a separate state, to be known as Haredistan. In this way, Israel will rid itself of its most insidious demographic problem, while the Haredim will achieve their cherished ambition of a theocracy. The inhabitants of Bnei Brak could be given the option of migrating to Haredistan, in exchange for any remaining secular inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Option 2. Declare Greater Jerusalem to be Israel’s Capital District, administered by a Governor and some form of council appointed by and responsible to central government. The mayor (or Ayatollah in this case) would have only ceremonial functions. This is the option I favour.

The Capital District Governor and his or her council would be responsible for putting in place a regime with the following mandate:

  • Redefine and tighten up the boundaries of Jerusalem to exclude those areas that should rather be considered territory designated for the PA.
  • Draw up plans to attract commerce, industry and a more diverse and representative population back to Jerusalem.
  • Dissolve and reconstitute the administration of Jerusalem to eliminate corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and bias towards any particular sector of the population.
  • Put in place spatial planning that will protect what remains of the natural environment and built heritage, identify and backfill development in the core areas of the city (rather than expanding ever outwards) and create diverse and mixed usage neighbourhoods.
  • With the assistance of the appropriate central government bodies, restore the rule of law. This would include preventing illegal construction by all parties, eliminating no-go areas (by force, if necessary) and breaking up the activities of Sabbath enforcers, modesty patrols and other sundry Taliban tendencies.
  • Attract tourism that does not misguidedly see run-down ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods and their natives as “quaint” or “picturesque”.
  • Prepare the city and its population and institutions for an eventual return to democracy at the local level.
  • Simply put, transform Jerusalem into an appropriate capital city for the revived Jewish people, a capital we can all be proud of.

Is this proposal undemocratic? Perhaps. Remember, though, that the Haredi sector has no commitment to democracy, but simply see it as a vehicle to take them to their particular destination. They have thoroughly abused democracy in order to promote their own narrow sectional interests, at the expense of the city and the rest of its bewildered inhabitants. Democratic local government can be restored once there is a culture and an understanding that the city does not belong exclusively to a fraction (however large) of those who live there.

None of the above will be possible under the present government (or any government we can envisage right now). I realize this all also sounds a little unrealistic (even to me), but that simply highlights how far from normal or acceptable the situation in Jerusalem (in truth, Israel as a whole) has become.

If we – not just the Israelis, but the Jewish people as a whole – are prepared to live with the intolerable then we may as well all pack up and go “home”, wherever home may turn out to be. We certainly don’t deserve the privilege of being able to call Jerusalem of Gold our eternal, undivided capital.

If we can’t achieve this, then we need to admit our failure, go back to the original UN partition plan and allow Jerusalem to become an “International City”.


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