This month’s Commentary Magazine features a number of articles devoted to analysis of Israel’s future, particularly in light of the new American administration. Michael Oren, the incoming Israeli ambassador to Washington wrote one of the pieces, along similar lines to a talk he gave a few weeks ago.
He outlines seven existential threats Israel faces today. Most of them – delegitimization, terrorism, demographics and Iran – have been discussed at length by many others, and I do not wish to belabor those issues.
The remaining three are not commonly mentioned as threats to Israel’s existence, and I will discuss them (as well as an additional, missing, threat) in the next few posts. All three are of the utmost importance, and what all have in common is that they have been caused, by and large by internal Israeli mistakes.
Oren starts off the list with Israel’s “Loss of Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish homeland, and has been the object of Jewish prayers and desires ever since the last period Jewish sovereignty, 2,000 years ago. And as he mentions, it’s preservation as “as the political and spiritual capital of the Jewish state is vital to Israel’s existence.” The continued existence of the State of Israel is dependent on Jerusalem maintaining a population of people devoted to it – Zionists.
Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, was elected amid high hopes this past November. Jerusalem has not been blessed with the best of mayors for the previous 15 years. Over the past few decades, Jerusalem has become its largest and poorest city. The namesake of the Zionist movement is now home to 800,000 people, including “272,000 Arabs and 200,000 Haredim,” meaning Zionists no longer make up a majority of residents in Israel’s capital. Not a whole lot has changed over the last 6 months, and Jaffa St., for example, is still torn up for a long promised light-rail system, that has yet to be seen (apart from the cars sitting in the sun in Pisgat Ze’ev, waiting). For now, the jury is out on Barkat’s mayorship.
A study from 6 years ago found that 50% of Israelis under the age of 18 have never visited Jerusalem. Sadly, things have probably not changed very much since then. All too many Israelis visit their nation’s capital for the very first time during the mandatory army trip most basic trainee undergo. Jerusalem, for many Israelis, might as well be on the other side of the world. It is not where most Israelis choose to spend a night out (Tel Aviv/Herzliya), where most choose to go on vacation (Galil/Dead Sea), where most Israeli culture is produced (well, elsewhere), or even where many government offices are located (again, Tel Aviv).
Jerusalem is a great tourism draw for visitors from abroad, but an Israeli walking around town during the summer months might as well feel like walking through a tourist attraction, not a living, breathing city. On a Saturday night, the city has a vibrant nightlife, but a very large part of it is, again, tourists and other foreigners. Places frequented by taxpayers keep being pushed eastward towards Shlomzion and onward.
National priorities must be changed, to make the capital city alive again, and not just in songs and prayers. Jerusalem is the soul of the Jewish people, part of the very basis of Zionism and the return home, in order to establish sovereignty. And without a thriving soul, the body will atrophy and die.