Selling Jerusalem Down the River

Jerusalem has experienced a social and cultural resurrection in recent years. The machinations of politicians such as Lieberman and Deri must not be allowed to kill it again.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

The battle for Jerusalem is almost lost. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) students currently account for 39 percent of all the capital’s school children. Arab students account for 37 percent of the capital’s school children. Zionists account for only 24 percent of the capital’s school children and, of those, only half are secular. Demography has had its say: Barring some dramatic change, secular Jews will have no hope in Jerusalem and Jerusalem will have no secular Jewish hope. As of now, Zion’s future is a non-Zionist one - and the future of its secular residents looks gloomy.

And yet, amid this almost-lost battle, a Jerusalem miracle has occurred in recent years. After decades of depressing stagnation, unusual vital forces have burst forth from this divided city. The Israel Museum has become an international gem and the biggest source of energy for Israeli art. The Mahane Yehuda market has become an area for authentic entertainment, full of life, one with few parallels among the wealthiest cities of America and Europe. The new First Station compound has become a scene of nonstop happening. From every nook and cranny in this city of stone, restaurants, cafes, pubs, artists’ studios and laboratories of creativity have sprouted up and renewed the city’s rich cultural fabric.

At the same time, new winds of social activism have established creative communities, launched technological initiatives and developed countless frameworks for a bubbling Jewish pluralism. A young, energetic leadership that arose out of the great Jerusalem crisis of the early 2000s has changed the face of the city. Suddenly, of all places, Jerusalem has become the alternative city. It has started to formulate a new cultural offering that is very different from the well-known Tel Aviv offering of money, sex and freedom.

Mayor Nir Barkat is no Teddy Kollek. He is not the scriptwriter, director and producer of Jerusalem’s social and intellectual renaissance. But the only high-tech entrepreneur in the country to have transferred his mega-success from the business sector to the public sector is the one who enabled this renaissance to happen.

He enabled the unique James Snyder to do what he did with the Israel Museum. He enabled the rare Elisheva Mazya and her friends to do what they did in the field of social entrepreneurship. He enabled the young men and women studying at Hebrew University and at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and at countless new cultural institutions to rekindle the city’s torch, which had nearly gone out. Under Barkat’s leadership, Jerusalem has returned from the dead and once again become a living city.

The ones who are seeking to send Jerusalem backward are Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. The deal they concocted to run Moshe Leon against Barkat is a very ugly deal born of a very old politics.

If Deri were a real social leader, he wouldn’t hand Jerusalem over to the sharp-witted businessman from Yisrael Beiteinu. If Lieberman were a real secular leader, he wouldn’t hand Jerusalem over to the anti-Zionist Haredim. If Deri and Lieberman were real national leaders, they wouldn’t strangle the awakening of the nation’s capital with their own hands. But Deri and Lieberman couldn’t resist the temptation. And they have confronted the city’s residents with a clear choice: Jerusalem-of-hope or Jerusalem-of-political-machinations.

Of all the municipal election campaigns now taking place throughout the country, the Jerusalem campaign is the most important. In the final analysis, Jerusalem is the center of our being. Jerusalem is not just a state capital, but also an identity capital. It’s impossible to give up on it. We must not give up on it. There’s no reason to give up on it.

Over the next 20 days, we must do everything possible to ensure that the surprising resurrection now occurring there doesn’t go down the drain. To this end, every Zionist resident of Jerusalem must vote – for Barkat. And to this end, every Zionist non-resident of Jerusalem must support Barkat.

Nir Barkat himself isn’t important in the least. But the city Barkat is trying to save is the most important city of all.

Religious and secular pedestrians in Jerusalem. Credit: Oren Nahshon
The billboards at the entrance to Har Homa, South Jerusalem, supported Moshe Leon, left, and Nir Barkat for mayor. But neither candidate succeeded in uniting the city's fractious tribes.Credit: Ilene Prusher
A poster in Baka, warning that Nir Barkat is 'good for the leftists,' next to a poster for the Yerushalmim party.Credit: Ilene Prusher

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