From Whom Do We Need to Save Jerusalem?

Deri?s depiction as a statesmanlike figure looking out for the public good is as valid as his claim that he decided to run for mayor because of his concern for the city.

In 1989, the Ratz party list headed by Ornan Yekutieli submitted its candidacy for the Jerusalem city council. Its calling card was to prevent an ultra-Orthodox takeover of the city. As part of its campaign, the party stuffed mailboxes with a map showing the gradual infiltration of the Haredi population into secular neighborhoods. Back then, this stunt was considered improper from a standpoint of political correctness, and in retrospect it harmed Ratz's election prospects.

Soon the public will be able to peruse the full contents of a document entitled "Vision for Jerusalem - A Plan for the Rehabilitation of Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel." In all practical purposes, the study, prepared with considerable effort by a large team of researchers, speaks in the same language employed by Ratz 19 years ago. The plan to save Jerusalem does not hesitate to characterize the city's ultra-Orthodox population as the main factor leading to its deterioration; it thus proposes an affirmative-action policy that would favor the secular and moderate-religious residents and push the Haredi communities outside the city's boundaries.

This is a bold document produced under the stewardship of top-flight think tanks, chief among them the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. It also received financing from endowments including the Jerusalem Foundation. Learned scholars took part in the research. An economist, Professor Gur Ofer, was responsible for gathering the material for the project's summation paper. These facts are meant to underscore the document's credibility as a reliable database to be referenced in the future; a database that will be difficult to ignore in any discussions about the city's future.

Jerusalem's municipal election campaign has just kicked off, and it would be fitting if "The Vision for Jerusalem" were its focus. Jerusalemites have the right to demand that the parties jockeying for their votes devote attention to the document and its recommendations, and to stake a position. This expectation takes on added urgency because it is doubtful whether the public steering committee that closely followed the researchers' work will publish its findings before the election.

The goal of the "Vision for Jerusalem" is to increase the non-Haredi Jewish population, which has a stronger socioeconomic standing, in order to halt its tendency to flee the city. This element of the city's population is to be strengthened by elevating municipal services to a level that meets its standards. The researchers envision a development model for Jerusalem much along the lines of "wisdom cities" and "creative cities" known around the world. The model would be based on an expansion of operations by the Hebrew University as well as Hadassah Hospital, academic institutions and some of the top industries.

The study recommends significantly expanding higher education in the city, and upgrading the municipal education system while establishing a relationship with the university. It proposes affordable housing or rent-only housing for students, and discourages the maintenance of "ghost apartments" in Jerusalem's well-established neighborhoods. Responsibility for the plan's implementation would rest with a special agency containing representatives from the government and world Jewry. The plan's funding would come mainly from state coffers, Diaspora Jews and the private sector. The plan would apply solely to West Jerusalem, not the eastern part, given the assumption that East Jerusalem will one day be transferred to a Palestinian state.

It is vital to inform the public of the study's key findings and proposals as a way to provoke a dialogue, not only because of their significance but because of former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri's decision to run for mayor. Deri is disqualified from holding public office because of his past. A court has confirmed his standing as a clear-cut criminal who pocketed a bribe and committed fraud. This alone would be sufficient to demand that he disappears from the public scene and lead a life cut off from that scene after serving his sentence.

Deri has also proved in his previous state functions that he is guided by a twisted set of concepts that finds expression in the "public file" amassed against him by the police and state prosecutors. Nor does he pass muster with the courts, because he has already been convicted of crimes. The "public file" contained evidence pointing to a sectarian policy that Deri methodically employed to advance the interests of institutions, people, and nonprofit organizations whose approval he so desperately needs.

Deri's depiction as a statesmanlike figure looking out for the public good is as valid as his claim that he decided to run for mayor because of his concern for the city. In judging his candidacy, the public ought to consider Deri's indebtedness toward Shas and the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox rabbinic sector, particularly at a time when Jerusalem needs a worthy leader for the years to come, someone who will lead the city in a direction proposed by the "Vision for Jerusalem."