Opinion

Israel’s new government must not abandon Jerusalem

The coalition negotiations demonstrated that preserving Israel’s capital is a low priority for the incoming government—this is a mistake.

Jerusalem city center, Dec. 26, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Jerusalem city center, Dec. 26, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Efraim Inbar

The transfer of the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry to a Haredi party (UTJ) constitutes the abandonment of Jerusalem to non-Zionist hands. In the long run, this will lead to the loss of the capital city.

The Haredi parties are the most sectarian in Israel. As their leadership sees it, the good of their constituency always comes before the good of the country. The latest prominent example is the fight to repeal the tax law on disposable utensils, which is in the general interest. Their opposition to core secular studies, which facilitates entrance into the labor market (and also moving out from ignorance and poverty), is further evidence of a deep reluctance to better integrate into Israeli society, and their alienation from it. Moreover, their political clout enhances the attitudes of superiority they feel toward the secular and Modern Orthodox.

The Haredi population in Jerusalem constitutes about 35% of the city’s Jewish population and just over 20% of the total population. Already today, there is no Zionist majority in the city.

The significant Haredi presence is one of the reasons for Jerusalem being one of the poorest cities in Israel. Of course, the Haredim are entitled to the same services as the other residents, even though their economic contribution to the city is small. Their labor force participation rate is low. On the other hand, their contribution to preserving the Jewish majority in the city is significant. The municipality, where they are well represented, takes care to provide for the community’s unique needs, offering various benefits for their yeshiva students with large families.

The budget of the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, which will be under the control of UTJ, is not particularly large, but will undoubtedly be directed mainly to responding to the requests of Haredi citizens. That will only strengthen the growth of their population in the city and increase its influence in the capital. All this is happening against a background of negative migration to the city, especially in the secular sector.

The coalition negotiations revealed that the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) is no less sectarian than the Haredi parties. This party mainly cares about the settlers and forgets, for some reason, that Jerusalem is the holiest and most important hill in the Land of Israel. Instead of worrying about Jerusalem, to which the party’s leaders pray three times a day, other hills interest them more.

Settlement in the Land of Israel is a vital value. However, a thoughtful strategic approach requires giving priority to Zionist settlement in Jerusalem in order to prevent the loss of the city to non-Zionist sectors (Arab and Haredi). Instead of an obsessive concern for Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem and the surrounding area should be at the center of Zionist settlement in the 21st century.

The leaders of the right-wing parties do not understand that the demographic balance in Jerusalem is a dominant factor in maintaining the national consensus on the unity of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is becoming more Haredi, which could turn into a national disaster. The capital of Israel cannot become another Bnei Brak, because a city whose cultural and ethnic makeup is Haredi and Arab will not win the empathy of the majority of the Israeli public. Simply put, the people of Israel will not fight for a city identified with Haredim who are not partners in carrying the burden of national security and are seen as an economic burden.

A clear Zionist majority is needed in Jerusalem to reduce the impact of the Israeli left’s attempt to erode the consensus about the unity of the city for attaining “peace,” and a broad consensus is required to withstand the international pressures to divide the city. The ambiguous attitude of the Zionist movement toward the Holy City in the not-so-distant past may reappear.

Jerusalem, which borders Judea and Samaria, is essential in the fight against terrorism. The division of the eternal capital means losing control over the holy basin, including the Temple Mount—the holiest Jewish place. Any tearing of the urban fabric of Jerusalem will intensify terrorism. Dividing the city will turn it into a sinking border city.

Furthermore, dividing the city is a danger to the security of the Jewish State. Preserving the unity of Jerusalem is a supreme security imperative. Jerusalem is the strategic depth for the coastal plain and a vital link in securing the Jordan River as the eastern security border of Israel.

The new government should reassess its attitude toward Jerusalem and adopt a policy encouraging the flow of Zionist Jews into the city. Housing projects and economic incentives are needed to attract young graduates of the IDF to the new neighborhoods in and near Jerusalem, instead of prioritizing construction for the Haredim and isolated settlements in the hills of Judea and Samaria.

Considering the limited resources and the number of potential “settlers,” the priorities should be clear: Jerusalem first. The fate of Israel is closely linked to its eternal capital, and the Israeli government should act to strengthen its hold on the city—because there is no Zionism without Zion.

Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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