Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

For the first time ever, Jerusalem elected a straight-up majority of ultra-Orthodox men to its city council. What’s it all mean?

This is a segment from The “Reckonings” Edition.


And now it is time for our first discussion.

So Allison, Jerusalem is definitely, definitely not Tel Aviv.

Am I right?

So for the first time ever, if you want to see how it’s getting to be even more not like Tel Aviv, most of Jerusalem’s city council members, 16 of 31 of them will be ultra Orthodox Jews.

If you’re keeping score, six seats were captured by the Sefardi Shas party, three by the Ashkenazi Hasidic Agudat Yisrael party, six by the Ashkenazi Mit Naged or Lithuanian Degel HaTorah party, and one by the also Lithuanian B’nai Torah of something called the Peleg HaYerushalmi or the Jerusalem wing.

Add to that the two seats that the National Religious Party won, the two seats that the Ultra-Nationalist and Religious United Party won, and the seat that the anti-LGBTQ Noam party won, and 21 of the 31 of the seats of the city council of the nation’s capital are controlled by parties that define themselves as religiously Orthodox.

Of the other 10 seats, two are controlled by Mayor Moshe Leon’s party, four by the secular liberal left coalition of Yesh Atid, Labor Merits and others, three by the secular liberal left Yitorah Rut or Awakening party, and one by Likud.

So if we’re counting right, 23 of the 31 city council members are men who wear yarmulkes, two are religious women, two are secular women, and four are secular men.

They are all Jewish, and this because even though just over a third of eligible voters are Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, their actual rate of voting hovers around 1% owing to a longstanding boycott of Israeli elections.

Just why this longstanding boycott persists is a complicated issue.

There are reasons that make sense, even if it’s not hard not to think about how different Jerusalem’s politics and maybe the whole country’s would be if there was no such boycott, but that’s a different subject.

The subject for today is, what does it say that Jerusalem, the nation’s capital, the seat of the Knesset, the home of the first Hebrew university in Jewish history, the birthplace of King Solomon and Yotam Otolenghi and, yes, Noah, Natalie Portman, is a city whose city council is overseen by an absolute majority of Haredim.

It is worth noting that the local government is a pretty monarchic system.

The mayor has tons of power and the city council has little crumbs of power.

And Meir Moshe Leon, who was reelected with more than 80% of the vote, wow, is widely respected as an able technocratic manager with a deft ability to balance the wishes and needs of all the different sorts of his constituents, and he will likely create a nearly wall-to-wall coalition in a way that allows, we hope, the non-Haredi citizens of the city to have some control of at least some aspects of city life that are important to them.

No one expects day-to-day life in Jerusalem to change much because most of the city council members are ultra-Orthodox men.

But still, yet, talk about the city with your non-Haredi friends in Jerusalem, and especially your secular ones, and you will hear at least an edge of worry in their voice, if not concrete plans to move away.

Go to the homepage of the liberal coalition of Yishatid, Merits, Labor, and Such, and you’ll register that worry.

It says, “No more to a municipality that represents the dark and radical forces.

Instead, a municipality that works for us and protects our way of life.

We will ensure that Jerusalem is an Israeli city and not a Messianic city, an open, lively, and liberal city that allows every group the independence to live as they wish in accordance with their worldview.”

So we happen to have a Jerusalem resident among us who happens to not be Haredi.

Linda, tell us, what do these election results mean to you?

What do you expect the future of your home Jerusalem to be?

For example, do you expect your children to continue living there for many years after you do?

Well, first of all, one of my children has already moved to Hawaii.

So I guess if you’re going to leave Jerusalem for somewhere, I guess Hawaii is okay.

I am concerned.

And part of the reason that these results happened is because the voting, the level of voting in Jerusalem was just over 30%, which is the lowest it’s ever been.

And it’s especially low, obviously, as you mentioned, the Palestinians don’t vote.

The Palestinians are about 40% of the population of Jerusalem.

And they don’t vote because they see voting as sort of recognizing Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem, which they don’t accept, of East Jerusalem after ’67.

Of the 60% left of the population, about one third is secular.

A little bit under one third is either traditional or religious.

And about 35% is Haredi.

But the Haredim, the ultra-Orthodox, all vote as opposed to a lot of other people.

I am not all that concerned because I actually, you know, to help prepare for this, I called Laura Wharton yesterday, who is a Jerusalem city council and one of the two secular women that you mentioned, Allison.

And she said that the truth is last in the last council, there was also in effect a majority of the Haredim because the candidate from Otzma HaYehudi, a guy named Aryeh King, votes 90% of the time with the Haredim.

And she said that they were, you know, he was with them on almost everything against the gay community, against anything secular, anything liberal, anything progressive.

At the same time, she said that, as you mentioned, Mayor Moshe Leon has been very clear that he does not want Jerusalem to be a Haredi city.

She said she’s worked with him on gay issues and liberal issues and that he feels strongly that Jerusalem should remain mixed.

And just to end with something slightly optimistic that she told me, she mentioned that there are 50,000 university students in Jerusalem going to both universities and colleges.

The Bitzalel Art Institute has reopened in the center of town and is attracting a lot of people.

And she said that she hopes that at least some of these 50,000 students will eventually make their homes in Jerusalem.

While I was reading the background of this just over the past week when I was looking into this, after you, Linda, sent me the link to an article that clued me into the fact that this had happened for the first time, that there was officially a Haredi majority on the city council.

And, you know, I’m deeply committed to the almost take as an axiom the fact that the ultra-Orthodox are citizens just like everyone else and people just like everyone else.

And that their democracy is the system that allows the people who vote to have the most influence over their lives.

And that it’s almost an axiomatic belief that the for me that the ultra-Orthodox will, you know, will while very, very jealously protecting their own interests and their own ability, their own expanding abilities to do what they want, where they do it in the city, that they had no overwhelming interest in driving out all the secular and non- ultra-Orthodox Jews.

And even still, I found myself feeling really sad to my shock that to see, to look at Jerusalem like that, that moment, maybe when you, you know, you look at your grandparents for the first time and see that they’ve become aged and that they’re weak and that they’re frail.

It was like I suddenly looked at Jerusalem through the eyes of reading all this research about Jerusalem politics and thought, oh, my God, it’s really sad that this city of Tedi Kalak, about whom I have very ambivalent feelings specifically, but the city of the Hebrew University, the city of the Israel Museum, the city of like the city of that famous photo of the Tzadkhanim in Jerusalem in 1967 is like really, really different.

And then I then it was in the past and also really not very much a part of like modern Zionist Israeli culture, not like it used to be.

And that all of a sudden made me feel really, really scared for or and sad for the really the very first time I was a little bit shocked.

Allison, what do you think about all this?

I mean, I think that the city also has to protect itself financially and economically.

And if it continues to be this flight of secular and non-Ultra- Orthodox from the city, there’s going to be no basis for the economy.

So if there’s like a contra to this tendency, I think it’s going to be economic.

You know, the statistics are depressing.

What’s nice is to maybe spend, if you spend some time as a non-Orthodox person in Jerusalem, I happen to have spent a weekend not long ago, and there are still like, you know, some bars and restaurants, you know, thriving on a Friday night, mostly filled with students from Hebrew University.

I mean, it’s hanging on.

On the other hand, I attended a conference.

It’s a conference that we attend every year.

My husband’s a law professor, the Conference of Public Law.

So you get to speak to a lot of retired Supreme Court justices or, you know, senior officials in the government who are mostly secular people, a lot of them from the Tel Aviv area, who because they pursued a government career, they moved to Jerusalem, they raised their families in Jerusalem.

They’re really, you know, part of the city and they love it and they want to stay there.

But they see, you know, their children saying there’s no future for us in Jerusalem, moving to the Tel Aviv area, and then them, you know, fleeing.

And they’re really torn.

They really love the city and they like being there.

But if there’s, you know, going to be, they don’t see a future.

They look at these numbers.

They think that there’s not going to be restaurants to go to on a Friday night.

There’s not going to be interesting cultural things to do.

You know, there’s a magnet that’s drawing and that’s pulling them out of Jerusalem.

And you wonder, you know, is perception going to create reality in this case?

And Moshe Leon, I guess, has a great job to do in terms of trying to, you know, maintain the confidence that there’s a there’s a future for people.

So, Linda, what do you think of all that?

Does it feel to you as though people are asking themselves the question, can I continue to stay in this city?

I think maybe some people are.

In fact, I went to there’s a wonderful little nature corner right near my house called Meets Petel, which has lupines, the purple flowers that bloom on this hill.

And there are thousands and thousands of these beautiful purple flowers.

And I went on a last Friday with one of my kids and or two Fridays ago because it was before the elections.

And the candidate, Yossi Havilio, for mayor who was challenging Moshe Leon, was walking around trying to drum up votes and was stopping everybody in saying, I will keep Jerusalem secular.

You know, I will preserve the secular things in Jerusalem.

You know, I think that there’s actually a fairly good coexistence that works.

In other words, Haredi neighborhoods are Haredi.

I live in a mixed neighborhood.

People drive on Shabbat.

Nobody cares.

But it feels different.

I mean, that’s one of the things I like about Jerusalem is that Shabbat feels different whether or not you keep Shabbat and the fact that there’s no public transportation and the fact that, you know, everybody on the street says Shabbat Shalom.

And I want Jerusalem to be different.

You know, that said, as Allison said, there are restaurants open.

You can go to the Israel Museum on Shabbat.

You can buy a ticket in advance if you choose to and go to the Israel Museum even if you keep Shabbat.

And if you don’t keep Shabbat, you can buy a ticket.

So there are there are movies.

Yes, Planet, which is, you know, not which is walking distance from my house, has movies on Shabbat.

Cinema City doesn’t.

Cinema City, everything is kosher.

So it seems to me that there’s kind of a coexistence that has been worked out.

I am concerned, though, that just because of the large number of the population increasing, Jerusalem’s over a million people already.

And so they’re building more and more high rises and there’s going to be less and less green space.

But I don’t know that that’s necessarily an ultra-Orthodox issue.

Well, that’s very encouraging.

I mean, you know, part of it is if every secular Jerusalemite got out there and voted, it wouldn’t necessarily be in this situation.

You know, the voting rate in order to, you know, bolster the representation has to be much higher than secular people tend to tend to be motivated and get out and vote in these.

The voting rate in this municipal elections was very, very low.

And when you are numerically outnumbered the way that secular and non-Ultra-Orthodox Orthodox Jews are in Jerusalem, you know, if and if you don’t do it, then you can’t complain.

I saw in the in the paper online this morning, an article by an Ultra-Orthodox fellow who and the headline was something like the the Ultra-Orthodox, the best example of and the vanguard of democracy.

And he was saying, people, people, you need to vote.

You should learn from the Ultra-Orthodox who are the strongest proponents of one person, one vote democracy rule in the in the country, which I thought was charming.

And there was an Arab candidate this time as well, a woman named Sundus Alhot.

She did not get in.

But the fact that she was willing to run and she didn’t care what anybody said, and I think is also important.

But, you know, on a broader level, I am a little bit concerned about also economically, in other words, the Haraitim tend because their income is so much lower, they tend not to pay taxes.

So, A, it means that, you know, we don’t the services are lacking because the tax base is just so much smaller.

You know, whether my kids will stay in Jerusalem, I certainly hope so.

I also hope they’ll give me grandchildren.

So but I don’t have much to say about either of those.

Now, that’ll be a topic for next week’s.

I mean, if they’re not completely said, that’s why I mentioned the economics of the beginning, if they’re not completely self-destructive, the ultra-Orthodox representatives are not going to do things that are going to, you know, increase the perception that there’s no future for secular people and secular businesses in Jerusalem, because it is a form of economic suicide and that, you know, they do need those those local taxes to come in.

So hopefully, I mean, as far as I see it, that’s going to be the check on the extremism.

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