Toward a divided city?

Haredi man in Jerusalem  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi man in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Is Mayor Nir Barkat aiming to divide Jerusalem? As astonishing as it may sound, the answer is, apparently, yes.
No, Barkat is not promoting a new “peace plan” to redivide the city into two separated parts between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather implementing an idea that has been in the air since the days of legendary mayor Teddy Kollek – to draw a separation line between the pluralistic population and the haredi sector.
Interviewed on Israel Radio back in the late 1980s, following a crisis that included violent haredi protests in the streets of Jerusalem, Kollek explained that there was probably no way to avoid drawing a (virtual) frontier between the haredi neighborhoods and the rest of the city. “Just as people don’t always appreciate the flavor of strangers’ cuisine, secular people and haredim are not very fond of each other,” he said. “Therefore it is better to admit this and keep a strict separation between the parties.”
That was the situation on the ground for about a decade or so. Apart from a few “islands” here and there, most of the neighborhoods north of Jaffa Road were considered haredi territory, while other neighborhoods, new and veteran, south of Jaffa Road were open to all – religious, traditional and secular. This situation held, more or less, until the mid-1990s, but began to unravel at beginning of Ehud Olmert’s term as mayor in 1993. Elected to office thanks to a wave of haredi support, Olmert allowed a strategic change in this unofficial status quo and haredim began to move out of their traditional neighborhoods, establishing bases in neighborhoods considered mixed until then.
Observers are divided over the question of if and how that trend could have been avoided. More building for haredim in their strongholds between Romema and Ramot could have been a good beginning, but this didn’t happen, not even during the tenure of the haredi mayor after Olmert, Uri Lupolianski, and his deputy and head of the planning and construction committee, the powerful Yehoshua Polak.
As a result, haredim moved into Kiryat Moshe (until then a religious Zionist neighborhood), Kiryat Menahem, Gilo and Kiryat Hayovel. While things are going rather smoothly in Gilo and Kiryat Menahem, Kiryat Hayovel has become a battlefield between the sectors, regarded by some as the “Stalingrad” of Jerusalem’s seculars.
A group of haredi rabbis and high-ranking officials at Safra Square designated by Barkat formed a committee that is working discreetly to find solutions to this problem.
Last week, leaked information about the results of their deliberations aroused anger and frustration among politicians on the secular side, who regard it as total capitulation by Barkat to haredi demands. According to the proposal, a small island for seculars will be preserved in Ramot; Kiryat Hayovel will remain secular and will even get a secular cultural compound (Warburg); and haredim will get the educational institutions they need built inside haredi neighborhoods.
Submission it isn’t. Roughly, it is a proposal based on the understanding that as long as rules of engagement between the city’s two sectors are not clearly drawn, tension and eventually violence are likely and therefore something should be done. Nobody is required to move out of where they live now, but haredim who wish to realize their lawful rights to haredi kindergartens, schools and any other institution linked to their way of life will have to cope with the fact that these will be available only in their haredi areas.
In other words, haredim could live wherever they want, but they would have to send their children out of largely secular neighborhoods for a haredi educational institution. That, in the minds of the secular side of the committee, should have put an end to the flow of haredim moving into secular neighborhoods.
Perhaps that was the intention, but on the ground, as in so many other cases, it is not going to happen.
Deputy Mayor Itzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) this week said that there was “no way” the approach would work. He said that even though the plan proposed to add 16 badly needed haredi kindergartens to his sector, “haredim will continue to look for affordable housing wherever they can, including Kiryat Hayovel and elsewhere.”
“This could even lead to a growth in their number,” he added.
How is all this connected to the municipal elections in 2018? Might it diminish Barkat’s image in haredi eyes? “Not at all,” concluded Pindrus.