December 30, 2018

A mayoral race in the holy place

 Image result for jerusalem


Nina Robins ‘19
Jerusalem: the city of gold, the beacon of Jewish prosperity for millennia. While certainly a focal point of Israel, despite its idealistic labels, not all of Jerusalem’s publicity is due to positive, holy associations.
The outgoing mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has overseen many of Jerusalem’s negative aspects during his double term of ten years. A member of the Likud party, Barkat has shared many policy opinions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding both civil infrastructural policies and social ones.
Over the past decade, Barkat has struggled with increased tensions between secular and Haredi populations while attempting to appease both populations as a representative of the city. Jerusalem is unique in this respect, because in no other Israeli city are such diverse Jewish populations quartered and living in such close proximity to each other as in the capital.
Tensions between different Jewish groups in Jerusalem regarding issues such as transportation, civil law and education have formed the basis of platforms for the upcoming Jerusalem mayoral race. The frontrunning candidates have all incorporated Jerusalem’s Jewish identity politics into their platforms.
“The most hot button issue… , aside from anything that is in a normal municipal election, is the status of religious issues in the city.” Israeli business owner and CEO Noah Roth said.
Punchy campaign posters littered about Jerusalem describe frontrunners as “representative of Jerusalem” both in heritage and as a way of promoting unity among all Jerusalemite factions. Ze’ev Elkin and Moshe Lion, both Likud members, have stressed the importance of cooperation with religious sects in Jerusalem in order to achieve progress. The younger, more liberal Ofer Berkovitch has taken a contrasting approach, asserting the danger of a Haredi stronghold on the city and the need to prevent ultra-religious domination.
“One major source of divide in Jerusalem is [sic] the religious aspects, with the Kotel,” senior Sophie Goldman said, referring to conflict in Jerusalem over whether or not egalitarian practice should be allowed at the Western Wall, instead of only supporting mainly Orthodox practices, as is desired by the advocacy group Women of The Wall.
Despite the candidates’ statements that unity between Jews in Jerusalem is crucial, there is a striking lack of discourse regarding cooperation with East Jerusalem and its Arab population. East Jerusalem has been stuck in a rut of poverty and unemployment – the infrastructure is noticeably older and only a fraction of women work – because Jerusalem leadership, generally right wing Jews, fears the empowerment of Arab opposition next door. To fight the stagnation in East Jerusalem, a handful of Arab candidates, such as Aziz Abu Sarah, have considered mayoral runs, but have never followed through or become close to winning.
“I definitely get the image that the city itself is run from a Jewish needs first standpoint,” Sophie Goldman, a senior, said.
The lack of representation for East Jerusalem residents in Jerusalem’s leadership, especially in the post of mayor but in town councils as well, also stems in part from Palestinian reluctance to accept Israeli citizenship and in turn voting rights, out of concern that such actions would validate Israel’s holding of the area. Both Israeli and Palestinian leadership in Jerusalem feed off of vilification of the other side and the desire to maintain the status quo of separation.
Neglecting East Jerusalem and stagnating a portion of the city’s population, however, will leave the incoming mayor with the same problems of economic inequality and social polarization that have plagued Jerusalem for years. In the end, this October 30, Jerusalemites must themselves determine which future Jerusalem they desire.
“Jerusalem is complex, because you can be a resident of Jerusalem without being a citizen of Israel,” Roth says, “so there are people who are people who are residents of the eastern part of the city who never applied or never recieved Israeli citizenship, but are able to vote in municipal elections.”

It will be interesting to observe whether or not Jerusalem’s new mayor will resolve polarization between Jewish groups, address the long-neglected East Jerusalem, or be able to unite Israel’s capital into the glimmering, thriving city it was intended to be.

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