Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

Talking about demographic concerns is always sensitive, and that was evident in many of the Dialogue discussion sessions this year. Jerusalem, as we have shown earlier, is a city whose demographic changes raise concern among both its non-Haredi residents (many of whom leave the city) and far-away observers.

As pointed out earlier, two groups of Jerusalemites are growing in number and share of the city’s population much more than other groups – Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Dialogue participants were asked to rank their level of agreement with nine statements concerning the numerical growth of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish and ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) populations. Overall, most participants tended to view this demographic reality as a problematic development. But interestingly, the growth of the ultra-Orthodox population was viewed as significantly more negative than the growth of the non-Jewish population (with some exceptions). Haredim, as one participant in Washington put it, “are too extreme.”

Participants were asked if they thought the growth of the non-Jewish population was a “positive development as it gives Jews and Arabs the opportunity to live together” and then subsequently asked if they thought the growth of the ultra-Orthodox population was a “positive development as it gives Jews of various types the opportunity to live together.” Graph 20 shows that 45 percent agreed that the growth of the non-Jewish population was a “positive development” in that regard (opportunity to live together), while only 28 percent agreed that the growth of the ultra-Orthodox population was a “positive development” in that regard (opportunity to live together).[1] Of course, the opposite is also true: More participants disagreed with the notion that the growth of the Haredi sector was positive than those disagreeing with the notion that the growth of Arabs was positive.

In order to better understand the responses to these two related questions, we divided all Dialogue participants into the following four categories based on their responses to whether the growth of the non-Jewish and Haredi population was a positive development (as it gives Jerusalemites the opportunity to live together):

  1. Those who disagree on both Haredi and non-Jewish growth (that is, those thinking the growth of these populations is a negative demographic reality);
  2. Those who agree only with respect to Haredi growth (that Haredi growth is positive);
  3. Those who agree only about non-Jewish growth (that Arab growth is positive);
  4. Those who agree on both Haredi and non-Jewish growth.

We then looked at these four groups by religious denomination. Namely, we looked at which Jewish groups (by denomination) applied which judgment to this Jerusalemite demographic reality. Orthodox respondents were three times more likely to agree with the statement when it pertained only to the Haredim – that is, to see the growth of the Haredi population positively, while the largest percentage of Reform respondents (42 percent) agreed only with respect to non-Jewish growth – that is, saw the growth of the Arab population as positive.

Dividing Dialogue participants according to age cohort, we see that the percent of respondents disagreeing about the positivity of the growth of both the Haredi and non-Jewish populations increased with each successive cohort. More interesting: the youngest cohort, age 18 to 29, showed a clear preference to living in a mix of Jews and Arabs than in a mix of non-Haredi and Haredi Jews. According to 49 percent of these young participants, only the growth of the non-Jewish (Arab) population is a positive development, as it provides Jews and Arabs the opportunity to live together. Less than half of that number (20 percent) agreed that the growth of both the Haredi and the non-Jewish populations is a positive development. Only 3 percent agreed that only the Haredi growth is a positive development.

In addition to the statement about the positive\negative aspect of “living together” with Haredim and Arabs, JPPI asked Dialogue participants to agree or disagree with the statement: “The growth of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish\Haredi population is a positive development as it makes the city more diverse.”[2] As graph 21 illustrates, the responses were similar in nature to the ones presented in the previous question. That is, there were many more participants viewing the growth of the non-Jewish population as a positive development, compared to those viewing the growth of the Haredi group as a positive development. Participants were split (51 to 49 percent) as to whether the growth of the non-Jewish population was a positive development (because it would make the city more diverse). They were heavily tilted (74 to 26 percent) against viewing the growth of Jerusalem’s Haredi Jewish population as a positive development.

As with the previous question, we examined responses to this question by dividing them into four categories (positive on both Arabs and Haredi Jews, negative on both, positive on Arabs, positive on Haredi Jews), as well as looking at the respondents according to denomination. And what we observe here, again, albeit to a lesser extent, is that a larger portion of the Orthodox participants agreed that the growth of the Haredi population, but not that of the non-Jewish population, was positive (because of its impact on the city’s diversity). On the other end of the spectrum of participants, Reform Jews, as well as secular and Conservative Jews, believed that the growth of the non-Jewish population, not that of the Haredi population, was positive because of its effect on the city’s diversity.

When it comes to age cohorts, the similarity between the two questions was even more striking. As graph 22 shows, the majority of the youngest cohort, age 18 to 29, agreed (53 percent) only with the statement about the non-Jewish population (its growth is positive because of the city’s diversity), but they were also least likely to agree on the statement concerning the Haredi population. That is to say: the younger JPPI Dialogue participants appreciated the value of a diverse city of Jews and Arabs, but did not see such value in mixing non-Haredi and Haredi Jews.

The fact that the younger generation views the growth of the non-Jewish population in Jerusalem as a positive development is not necessarily surprising, as it is consistent with the notion that the younger generation has, generally, more liberal and inclusive attitudes. What is interesting here is the seeming contradiction between a desire for diversity when it comes to Jews and Arabs and the lack of such desire when it comes to non-Haredi and Haredi Jews.

There is a simple explanation for this seeming contradiction: Dialogue participants believe that the growth of the non-Jewish population would add to the city’s diversity – but also believe that the growth of the Haredi population would not have the same effect. They believe that adding more Haredim to the mix would, in due time, make Jerusalem not more but rather less diverse, because of Haredi objections to diversity.

This sentiment was expressed clearly when JPPI asked participants to agree or disagree with the statement: “If the growth of Haredi population continues Jerusalem will not be a pluralistic city that is hospitable to Jews of all streams and denominations.” As the graph below shows, a combined 85 percent (31 percent “somewhat agree” and 54 percent “strongly agree”) of Dialogue survey respondents agreed with this statement. That is to say: a vast majority of respondents believe that increasing numbers of Haredim in Jerusalem would make the city less hospitable to other Jews (and hence less diverse). “We spoke of an open and welcoming Judaism” as a priority, reminded a participant in New York.[3]

In fact, even the majority of respondents who identified as traditional or Orthodox , and who had showed (ostensibly) a preference for the growth of the Haredi population over the non-Jewish population agrees that Haredi population growth would be a detriment to the city’s Jewish pluralism (69 percent of Orthodox participants agreed with the statement, 64 percent of “traditional” participants agreed with it, compared to 87 and 91 and 91 percent respectively for Conservative and Reform and secular Jews).

Furthermore, there was a consensus among Dialogue survey respondents that the growth of the Haredi population poses an “economic problem for the future of the city (as this Haredi population has low employment and high poverty rates).” Graph 23 shows the distribution of responses on this question by Jewish denomination (among Dialogue participants). That the lines follow almost an identical pattern and are close together suggests that there is little variance of opinion among denominations on this question. They all agree that Haredi growth is an “economic problem” for Jerusalem. “You have to be realistic.  The Haredim are not going to high school or college,” a participant in West Palm Beach asserted.

For the sake of comparison, graph 24 shows the distribution of responses given by the various denominations on the statement: “The growth of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish population is a problem, since a binational Jerusalem is likely to produce violence.”[4] In this case – a statement contending that the presence of Arabs in Jerusalem is a potential security problem – the distribution of the responses by denomination is different. We see more difference between denominations, and we see (for most groups – the traditional, in green, are the odd group out) a bell curve. That is to say: these groups are divided on whether “the growth of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish population is a problem” because of the potential for violence.

To sum up this short chapter: When Dialogue participants look at the demographic realities in Jerusalem, they are much more concerned about Haredi growth than they are about Arab growth. Dialogue participants were in more agreement on the positive statements vis-a-vis the growth of the non-Jewish population, as well as the negative statements concerning the growth of the Haredi population.

[1] Note that the graph amalgamates two separate questions.

[2] Again, these were two separate statements in the original form of the survey. 1. the growth of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish population is a positive development as it makes the city more diverse. 2. the growth of Jerusalem’s Haredi population is a positive development as it makes the city more diverse. We combined them here into one graph as it makes them easier to compare.

[3] NY Federation discussion, group 1.

[4]   It is important to reemphasize that the survey was answered way before the eruption of violence around Temple Mount in July 2017.

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