Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification after the Six Day War. It also marks a decade since JPPI’s last major report on Jerusalem. Thus, it was natural for JPPI to dedicate this year’s Dialogue to a reexamination of Jerusalem’s status. Jerusalem is, of course, considered holy by the three monotheistic religions. But JPPI aimed to deal with Jerusalem as understood and interpreted by Jews around the world who have a stake in the city’s future.

In JPPI’s 2007 report, A Strategic Plan for the Strengthening of Jerusalem as a Civilizational Capital of the Jewish People,[1]   it was argued that there was an urgent need to close the gap between the visions, perceptions, and ideals people have concerning Jerusalem and the actual reality of Jerusalem. Ten years later, we have strived to survey the perceptions of Jews and compare them with their ideals and visions for Jerusalem. It’s worth mentioning that at the time this report goes to press, Israel`s politicians also discussed two laws that could change Jerusalem’s landscape dramatically: one law (the greater Jerusalem bill) is meant to drastically widen the city`s borders to include neighboring settlements and the other suggests shrinking the city`s borders by excluding Arab neighborhoods from Jerusalem’s municipal authority. [2]

Our questions were at times very specific: Is it essential that Jerusalem have a clear Jewish majority? How important is it that the city be Jewishly diverse? Do you support a division of Jerusalem in exchange for peace with the Palestinians? What role should Diaspora Jews play in crafting Jerusalem’s future?

Our aim was to better understand the following:

  1. How Jews around the world view Jerusalem’s current situation – culturally, demographically, and politically. Do they view it as a thriving city or as a city in trouble? Do they feel pride at how it is developing, or anxiety about its future?
  2. How important is Jerusalem for Jews – especially Jews who do not live in Jerusalem and even more so those who do not live in Israel (visitors and tourists usually see only a small part of Jerusalem, and hence are not always familiar with the full complexity of the city) – and how invested do they feel in its future?
  3. What is the vision of Jews for Jerusalem, and what are the policies and priorities they would subscribe to in fulfilling this vision?

In the context of trying to identify the gap (or lack thereof) between reality and vision, there was a need to narrow the discourse and frame it in a way suitable for discussion and reporting. In the Dialogue, we focused on four main areas of interest:

  1. Demographic trends of Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem and what they mean for its future.
  2. Societal and cultural developments stemming from these changes, and what they could mean for Jerusalem’s future.
  3. Political questions that could impact Jerusalem’s future.
  4. The input of Jews all over the world in crafting a vision for Jerusalem and how it might be implemented.

Obviously, these topics hardly cover all the possible angles from which Jerusalem can be seen. But we believe that by focusing on them JPPI Dialogue participants could cover most of the areas in which decisions – by the Israeli authorities and by Jewish institutions – can be made. JPPI’s goal is to offer decision makers both a better understanding of where Jews stand as they think about Jerusalem today, and where they would like their leaders to take Jerusalem in the future.

Naturally, some of the topics under discussion were highly charged, and JPPI did not expect a consensus on all of them would emerge. Many Dialogue participants “spoke of feeling conflicted in their feelings about Jerusalem,” according to the report on the Dialogue session held in Melbourne, Australia.[3] However, previous Dialogues have taught us that by listening to the Jewish voices we can learn a great deal about their preferences, and also derive useful recommendations that could lead to better policies – policies that do not increase the level of division but rather reduce it.

Making as many Jews as possible feel at home in Israel is a main feature of the JPPI-William Davidson Foundation “Pluralism and Democracy Project.” It is not difficult to see how a similar goal could be tailored specifically for Jerusalem.

[1] See (Hebrew): תכנית אסטרטגית לחיזוק מעמדה של ירושלים כבירה ציביליזציונית של העם היהודי, המכון למדיניות העם היהודי, 2007.

[2] About the greater Jerusalem bill and the American government response, read “Coalition chairman confirms US pressure behind ‘greater Jerusalem’ bill delay”, Reuters, Jerusalem post, October 29th 2017.

[3] Caulfield South, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday,  February 19, 2017. Moderator: John Searle, note taker: Ariella Birnbaum.