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Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

The following JPPI recommendations were compiled based on the following components: A. Recommendations and suggestions specifically raised during JPPI discussions in the communities; B. Sentiments expressed in the Dialogue process, and the recommendations that spring from them, as JPPI fellows understand their meaning and implications. In other words: The recommendations below do not always reflect the consensus of the community Dialogues, and certainly not the views expressed by all the participants in these dialogues. These are the steps JPPI recommends, based on discussions with many engaged Jews – many of them leaders in their communities.

The 2017 Dialogue focused on Jerusalem, and this report echoes this fact in detail. However, it is important to note that many of the issues that emerged during discussions related essentially to divisions among and between segments of the Jewish people. This fact will be reflected in the recommendations section:

Jerusalem is a key tool in connecting Israel and the Diaspora: it ought to be utilized wisely and carefully.

The dialogue unearthed the deep sense of connection that Jewish leaders feel toward Jerusalem. They identify it as their city, as a “home away from home,” a place in which they have a stake. They expect to be taken into account as the future of the city is planned and pondered.

There is no substitute for Jerusalem, and this is as important as it is obvious. In the Jewish psyche this is the single place that almost all Jews hold dear and all share; Israel, as the guardian of the city, ought to remember this fact.

Because of Jerusalem’s special place we recommend the following:

  1. As decisions concerning the future of Jerusalem are made, the impact of these decisions on the connection of Jews to Jerusalem should be taken into account.
  2. A consultation mechanism between Jewish groups about the future of Jerusalem should be established. Both the GOI and the Mayor of Jerusalem can determine ways to incorporate input from the Jewish world prior to making important decisions that affect the long-term character of the city.
  3. Jerusalemites should be made aware through educational and other means of the special role that they and their city has – and to be alerted to the fact that their actions and decisions profoundly influence the connection of Jews to Israel. Jerusalemites should be encouraged to take part in the mission of making their city a place where all Jews can feel at home.
  4. The image of Jerusalem ought to be actively enhanced, by bettering the situation where necessary, and also by making Jews more aware of improvement where the situation is already satisfactory. It does not benefit relations when Jews think of one of the main points of connection with Israel as a problematic place.

An attempt to reconcile competing visions of the future of Jerusalem is necessary

Jews disagree on many things, one of them is the desired future of Jerusalem. This is not something that can be changed. Also, we should expect differences in aspirations and agendas between Jews who reside in Jerusalem, and need it to be a comfortable home, and Jews who come to visit the city, and see it more as a place for rest, inspiration, and tourism.

These competing agendas present challenges to every major city in the world, and they present a challenge to Jerusalem. As these challenges are navigated we recommend the following:

  1. That both the city and those visiting the city attempt to reduce unnecessary conflicts and find ways to accommodate different agendas in different parts of the city.
  2. That the city (and the GOI) make an effort to advance the diversity of Jerusalem’s Jewish population – so that all communalities of Jews could find like-minded people in the city. Current demographic trends threaten to reduce the level of diversity and make Jerusalem less appealing for many groups of Jews, both as a residence and a place to visit.
  3. That areas be marked where strict rules of pluralistic coexistence will be enforced – while other areas are known to be enclaves for communities who seek to shield themselves from outside influences.
  4. Jerusalem’s attractiveness to Jews stems mainly from its historical significance and its religious/spiritual power. Thus, reinforcing the ability of all Jews to express their religious sentiments in a meaningful way is key to maintaining a strong Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

There is an urgent need to develop better communication with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

The JPPI Dialogue gave voice to a growing, and in some instances alarming, alienation that is separating most Jews from the growing minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Haredi growth is viewed by some as a danger, burden, or detriment.

Quite remarkably, many Dialogue participants in the Diaspora view the growth of the non-Jewish sectors in Jerusalem (i.e. Arabs) as adding to the positive diversity of Jerusalem, but believe that the parallel growth of the Haredi segment is a detriment. Although this is about Jerusalem, its implications extend far beyond. This is especially so as the relative numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews are on the rise in both Israel and the Diaspora and hence their visibility and influence is expected to grow.

JPPI has already made some recommendations concerning this issue in previous publications, but the context of Jerusalem clarified that these bear repeating and should be bolstered:[2]

  1. The Government of Israel (GOI) and major Diaspora communities where the Haredi population share is growing similarly should identify appropriate strategies (which will vary) and provide the resources needed to accelerate Haredi economic integration in the broader economies.
  2. Haredi leaders must be approached by the GOI and other bodies to get its assistance and cooperation in making Jerusalem a place where all Jews can feel at home (or at the very least to convince them not to disrupt such efforts).
  3. Structured communications between non-Haredi groups and Haredi groups need to be established to help defuse tensions between Jews with conflicting agendas and attempts should be made to find common ground where possible.
  4. The GOI and the mayor of Jerusalem along with major Jewish communities should explore, test, design, and fund initiatives that create additional contexts for Haredi and non-Haredi Jews to interact in a non-confrontational atmosphere.
  5. Jewish leadership around the world ought to be more aware and more considerate of Haredi sensitivities. This important sector of the community cannot be expected to align itself to the rest of the community, and tailor its agenda accordingly, without a parallel effort by the community to accommodate Haredi needs.

The purpose of such efforts should be to test what might be done to increase knowledge and ultimately expand appreciation among and between key segments of the Jewish people; to deepen appreciation that while Jews may understand the nature of God, obligation, and Torah differently, they – Haredi and secular, Israeli and Diaspora – share a common history and destiny. The growing divide and bifurcation of the Jewish people has been long predicted. Dialogue discussions revealed the extent of the distancing within our people. While it is not clear what (if anything) can be done about this distancing, which is based on deeply held beliefs about the nature of Judaism and the Jewish people, JPPI believes that serious efforts must be tested that seek to redress the deeply troubling trends revealed in the 2017 Dialogue about Jerusalem and in many other areas.

Resolving the Kotel issue is essential. Israel should implement the January 2016 compromise reached with world Jewry.

The issue of an egalitarian third Western Wall plaza is constant background noise in any discussion of Jerusalem and the Jewish people, and a constant detriment to Israel-Diaspora relations. On this issue, the 2017 Dialogue did not provide much news: the leaders of Diaspora Jewry believe that it is past the time for Israel to implement the agreement and establish the plaza under the agreed terms.

Granted, this issue is probably not the most pressing on Israel’s political agenda, and probably also not the most important for many Diaspora Jews. Its main importance derives from the fact that Israel refuses to complete the deal, and hence is demonstrably signaling that relations with Diaspora Jews are not a government priority. This message is harmful to the future of these relations.

Address demographic trends to keep Jerusalem a Jewish city.

Jerusalem has a key role in Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors, and especially so with the Palestinians. JPPI makes no specific recommendations as to how a future peace deal ought to look vis-a-vis Jerusalem. It does, however, feel the need to make decision makers aware of the possible impact of their positions on the Jewishness of Jerusalem and on the connection of Jews around the world to the city. Thus, we make the following recommendations:

  1. Israel must consider and address the fact that current demographic trends could turn Jerusalem into a majority non-Jewish city, a development world Jewry sees as negative. The implications of such a development on the connection of Jews, Israelis and non-Israelis, to the city could be profound.
  2. Israel must take concrete steps to improve the lives of Jerusalemite Arabs.
  3. Israel needs to understand that its positions on the political future of Jerusalem (and the implications for the peace process) and the way it treats non-Jewish minority populations in the city impact the way Diaspora Jews view Jerusalem and their support for Israel’s control of the city.
  4. Israel must consider Diaspora Jews as partners in Jerusalem. It must actively invite their participation in the discussion concerning Jerusalem’s political future. That said, decisions on this issue ultimately rest with the Israeli public and its democratically elected representatives.

[1] JPPI’s Dialogue and its Survey of World Jewry represent the average views of a self-selected group of mostly Jewish leaders and highly engaged Jews who chose to take part in the Dialogue. More on this issue in the appendix.

[2]For more on these issues, and some of the complications involved in pursuing them, see: The Haredi Challenge, Dov Maimon, Shmuel Rosner, JPPI, 2013. The study identified three areas of concern, each deserving its own strategy: contribution to the economy; the absence of equal burden sharing; religious coercion.