Jerusalem for all
The election of Nir Barkat to be the next mayor of Jerusalem is good news for Jews around the world. And we don’t say that because Barkat is a secular Jew, or because his closest challenger, Rabbi Meir Porush is a haredi Jew.
We say that because Porush, were he elected, would have been an intolerant mayor. He said so himself.
As JTA reported, Porush recently told a fervently Orthodox crowd, “In another 15 years there will not be a secular mayor in any city in Israel.” We might forgive a candidate for making a not-so-thought-out remark, which can happen in the heat of a campaign (just look at the recent U.S. presidential election), but Porush delivered these remarks in Yiddish at a yeshiva.
In other words, they weren’t meant for public consumption, though an Orthodox radio station picked up the remarks unbeknownst to the candidate.
This is the same tactic Yasser Arafat used when he was alive. He’d say something benign for public consumption, then reveal his true feelings, in Arabic, to a Palestinian audience. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
Lest we be accused of being anti-Orthodox, we hasten to laud the outgoing mayor, Uri Lupolianski, also a haredi Jew. For five years, Lupolianski has run the holiest city to Jews, and though he won’t go down in history as Jerusalem’s greatest mayor — that honor still goes to Teddy Kollek — he impressed a lot of detractors with his receptiveness to all of Jerusalem’s residents, including the secular community. All indications were Porush would not exhibit the same open mind.
Everyone must feel welcome in Jerusalem, not just to visit and leave some money in its stores and restaurants, but to live there and be a part of its long and rich history. A Jerusalem that is just for the haredi is a Jerusalem that will be the poorest city in Israel in more ways than financial.
To keep Jerusalem’s younger, more secular residents from moving out, as they are doing in increasing numbers, the city’s fathers (and mothers) must address its shortage of affordable housing, made worse by part-year residents who buy there.
But the real threat is still one community pushing out another. There should be room in Jerusalem for all Jews for varying lifestyles. To guarantee that, there must be a mayor who believes this way.