Jerusalem politics: changing the city's character?

Now is the time to take Jerusalem to the next level.

June 11, 2018 20:01
3 minute read.
Jerusalem politics: changing the city's character?

A general view shows Jerusalem's old city from an Israeli Air Force plane during an aerial show as part of celebrations for Israel's Independence Day to mark the 66th anniversary of the creation of the state, May 6, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)


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Jerusalem’s municipal elections are heating up. Scheduled for October, the election has already brought out close to a dozen candidates – including Knesset members, ministers and businessmen. Some are residents of Jerusalem. Others are moving to the city so they can run for its top post.

As of now, the two leading candidates seem to be Likud Minister Zeev Elkin and Deputy Mayor and past candidate Moshe Lion. A lot will depend on who the haredi residents of the city give their support to in the election. While haredim are not yet a majority in Jerusalem, they tend to vote as a bloc and have the potential to determine the election’s outcome.

Other candidates include deputy mayors Meir Turgeman (Jerusalem Will Succeed) and Ofer Berkowitz (Hitorerut), attorney Yossi Havilio, formerly the municipality’s legal adviser, and Avi Salman, a former aid of outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat. MK Nachman Shai from the Zionist Union is also mulling a run.

The question that voters ultimately need to ask themselves is what is in Jerusalem’s best interest and who, among the candidates, stands the best chance at advancing the city and dealing with its growing challenges.

Work needs to be done to improve the quality of life and municipal services in east Jerusalem, haredi neighborhoods and the city’s overall state of cleanliness. Investments need to be made in creating more jobs in the city and building affordable housing for young couples. As the city becomes poorer and more religious, the next mayor will need to take serious steps to keep – and even try to increase the number of – secular Israelis in Jerusalem.

More leisure and entertainment spots need to be open on Shabbat for Jerusalem residents and for tourists who visit the city over the weekends. The First Station and Yes Planet, which are open, are anomalies, and while they fit the status quo – entertainment centers, open, commerce places, no – there are growing efforts to get them closed as well.

What is happening in the city, though, is no longer a battle just over Shabbat. There are efforts to completely change Jerusalem’s character. An example of this are the recent calls by haredi politicians to shut Mahaneh Yehuda, a popular venue with bars and restaurants, on weeknights. That has nothing to do with Shabbat, during which the shuk is closed, but with haredi efforts to simply ban any entertainment in the city. The fact that this has become an election issue speaks to the seriousness of this threat.

The mayoral candidates need to clarify their stance on these issues. While they will understandably not want to say something that could cost them haredi votes, red lines do need to be drawn in order for Jerusalem to remain a sustainable and vibrant city with an economic future.

But while Jerusalem faces many challenges, the single most pressing problem seems to be the inequality between Arab east Jerusalem and Jewish west Jerusalem. The socioeconomic chasm between the two parts of the city, exacerbated by the security barrier that has left neighborhoods such as Shuafat and Kafr Akab without municipal services, raises questions about the future of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

When politicians and mayoral candidates talk about a united and undivided Jerusalem, what exactly are they referring to in a city that is becoming increasingly divided, both demographically and geographically? How can anyone talk seriously about sovereignty over the city if there is a reluctance to take responsibility for all of its parts? With rights need to come responsibilities.

Outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat can be commended for raising Jerusalem’s scepter on the international stage and for bringing high-profile events to the city like the Marathon, Formula 1 and more. The planned opening of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train in December – assuming there are not more delays – would be a nice end to his two terms in office.

Now is the time to take Jerusalem to the next level.

The challenges are not going away.

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