Opinion

The Distance Between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Has Never Been Greater

Anyone who wants to understand just how poisonous the mix of religious fanaticism and brutal occupation is should look at Jerusalem ahead of the upcoming runoff election for mayor

Ultra-Orthodox men walk on a street covered with campaign flyers in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem on October 30.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Look at Jerusalem and you’ll see how Israel may look not so long from now. Look at the separation wall, the armed soldiers tyrannizing its alleyways, the religious and ultra-Orthodox majority, the filth, the neglect and the poverty. Look at the mayoral election and you’ll see how fitting it is for a beautiful city that has become ugly beyond recognition, a capital that has become provincial, a light that become darkness.

There’s nothing like this election, whose final round will be on Tuesday and whose result clearly isn’t fateful, to show you what has happened to Jerusalem and what’s liable to happen to Israel as a whole in its wake. Anyone who wants to understand just how poisonous the mix of religious fanaticism and brutal occupation is, poisonous enough to make a city rot, should look at Jerusalem. What a yawning gap has opened between the lofty speeches about Jerusalem, with all their pompous pathos, and the reality of the city – “How is the faithful city become a harlot,” in the blunt words of the prophet Isaiah ben Amotz.

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The eternally united city is today one of the toughest and most repulsive cities in Israel. The election reflected this faithfully. Three of the four mayoral candidates were religious, and all four represented various shades of the right wing of the political spectrum. As in Army Radio’s fair and balanced news program, there wasn’t a single leftist among them who would talk about human rights in this divided city. Nor were any of them particularly impressive.

Posters for united Jerusalem’s leading candidate featured four men and a child, one of them armed, at the Western Wall. There were no Arabs. Almost 40 percent of the residents of Israel’s largest city have chosen not to participate in the elections. They aren’t citizens and they’re living under occupation.

Anyone who wants to understand the deceptive façade of Israeli democracy can see it in all its falsity in Jerusalem. Anyone who wants to grasp the fraud of equality “irrespective of religion, race or sex,” to quote the Declaration of Independence, should go to Jerusalem’s Shoafat neighborhood. Anyone who wants to find out how accurately the nation-state law reflects reality should study Jerusalem. There’s no other apartheid city like it in Israel.

The election campaign reflected all of this. An election in which almost half the residents feel they have no part is not an expression of democracy. A municipality that blatantly and without a shred of restraint oppresses entire neighborhoods, refusing to provide them with services, solely because of their residents’ nationality creates a segregated city.

These issues, which are more decisive than anything else in shaping Jerusalem’s character, weren’t even on the agenda during the campaign. This represented another peak in Israel’s repression and denial, very similar to the same symptoms on the national level: We’re an egalitarian democracy, and there’s no elephant in the room.

It’s no wonder that the outcome of this election will be determined almost entirely through deals. It’s also no wonder that the race has aroused so little interest outside the circle of political hacks. The capital of Israel, which is both the eternal city and the country’s largest, is holding elections, yet very few people care who will be elected to lead it.

The distance between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv has never been so great. Never has there been such a difference between the two cities’ animating spirits.

Thus at the crossroads where the country stands today, the following question arises in full force: Where is it headed, toward Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? Is Israel racing eastward or westward, forward or backward? Will what’s happening in Jerusalem overcome the entire country and determine its character, or is there still a chance that the State of Tel Aviv can win?

Demography says Jerusalem. The zeitgeist, which is becoming ever more right-wing, religious and nationalist, also says Jerusalem. Tel Aviv’s apathy to what’s happening outside it also doesn’t bode well.

Nevertheless, we must not lose hope. Secular, liberal Israel must not ignore what’s happening to its capital. What happens between the city’s Chords Bridge and the separation wall is going to take over all of Israel if Tel Aviv and its satellites continue to remain apathetic. Apartheid, occupation, increasing ultra-Orthodoxy, poverty, filth and nationalism won’t remain only in Jerusalem. Look at it and its election campaign. Is this how we want to live?