This Jerusalem Day was a particularly happy one. Every year, those of us involved in developing and advancing policy for our city wait with bated breath for the new statistics that are published by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. Will all the hard work, all the investment and all the hopes we harbor for our capital be reflected in those dreaded cold numbers? This year we finally saw some light, a sharp contrast to the shock and fatigue we felt after being plunged into another election last week. I want to do something somewhat uncharacteristic for our tribe and take a moment to reflect on the good news.
Our city is the largest and most diverse city in the country; it has now crossed the 900,000 resident mark. Contrary to the usual doomsday peddlers – among them politicians whose very political survival depends on stoking fear that secular Jews are an endangered species in this city – the secular population has grown for the first time in 10 years, to 22%. The ultra-Orthodox population stands at 24% and the Zionist/modern religious population stands at 21%. Moreover, the negative migration balance, those figures that throw people into a panic about young people abandoning our city in droves is, at 6,000 residents, the lowest in a decade – completely normative for a capital city. We can hypothesize about why these improvements came about: the growing technological ecosystem, reflected in the 33.8% increase in hi-tech companies in the city; the new and attractive jobs created by emerging unicorn companies such as Mobileye, the flourishing scene in Mahaneh Yehuda; the unprecedented budgets that were dedicated to culture by former mayor Nir Barkat, or a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason, these numbers are heading in the right direction for the first time.
More ultra-Orthodox men and women have joined the workforce. The men stand at 49% – far from ideal, but the highest in decades. The women, who have always worked, stand at 61%, reflecting the numbers in the general female workforce. While the haredi population is still living 40% under the poverty line, I see a slow evolution with the new generation. Maybe it’s just my optimism, but the popularity of the new haredi government schools teaching core curriculum subjects, in addition to the increasing numbers of men and women in higher education, gives me reason to believe that change is happening.
THERE IS no doubt that having an Arab population of 37% in the city poses a great challenge. Politics aside, we are talking about a population that lives 80% under the poverty line, with socioeconomic problems that should concern us all. How did we get here? For many years, successive Israeli local and national governments, regardless of political affiliation, believed that maybe someday, in some constellation, the Arabs of east Jerusalem would not be our problem. It has only been in the last few years that a change in thinking has occurred – not only among us Jews, who believe in keeping the city united, but also among the Arabs themselves. A bankrupt Palestinian educational system that doesn’t teach its students Hebrew or English has created the largest number of drop-outs in the country. The abject lack of leadership in east Jerusalem, combined with the consumer culture we are all trapped in, has led to an Israelization of the east Jerusalem Arabs, and an understanding that normalization may be their most attractive option. The percentage of Arab women working in east Jerusalem is the lowest of any Arab city in Israel and, shockingly, the lowest in the entire Middle East, including Saudi Arabia!
In the last few years, with the help of the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, the city has begun to invest unprecedented amounts of resources into east Jerusalem. Slowly, the situation is beginning to shift. The percentage of women’s employment has risen from 17% to 27% – still much lower than the average in the country, but in relative terms, a huge increase. When a poll was taken among east Jerusalem families, 50% expressed a desire for their children to be educated in the Education Ministry curriculum, as they understand that this is the best chance their children have for higher education and quality employment. Needless to say, this means not just more children with a chance at a better life, but fewer students subject to the systematic brainwashing and incitement against us from Palestinian Authority schools.
The city still has a myriad of challenges which need to be addressed. We are still the poorest city in the country, our housing prices are still going up and salaries for both men and women are the lowest in the country. However, for this Jerusalem Day, I chose to see the glass as half full.
The writer is deputy mayor and leader of the Jerusalem Will Succeed Party.