August 23, 2019

Jerusalem is already divided? Think again

All I will do today is draw your attention to an interim report by the Jewish People Policy Institute about Jerusalem and the Jewish People. This short summary of a much longer report scheduled for the end of the summer was presented two weeks ago, just before Jerusalem Day, to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat.

The report is not very long and you can read it here, but I’d like to tie some of its findings to a survey that was released two days ago by Israel’s Walla news (Hebrew only).

What JPPI reported, based on its Structured World Jewish Dialogue on Jerusalem, is that “most Jews in Israel and Dialogue participants around the world believe that Jerusalem’s development is moving in the ‘wrong direction.’” That is to say: hundreds of participants in discussions held by the institute in Jewish communities around the world agreed with the statement: “Jerusalem is moving in the wrong direction.” Similarly, a survey JPPI conducted in Israel showed that a majority of Jewish Israelis believe that Jerusalem is moving in the wrong direction.

So do we have a consensus? No, we do not. As we reported (we is my JPPI colleague John Ruskay and me), there are in fact “three circles of reference” when discussing Jerusalem’s direction. Jews around the world “are highly concerned about the direction in which the city is moving.” 70% of them – and by “them” we mean the 500 dialogue participants – assert that it is moving in the wrong direction. Jews in Israel “also have a relatively dim view of the city’s current trajectory.” Based on our survey, 60% of them argue that it is moving in the wrong direction. However – and we believe that this is significant – “the Jewish residents of Jerusalem have a much more positive assessment of the direction the city is taking.” Namely, “the people who are most familiar with the city also have a more positive view of the direction in which it is moving.”

Here’s the graph with the numbers. Note that the numbers concerning world Jewry are from a self-selected group of JPPI dialogue participants, while the numbers from Israel are drawn from a poll of a representative sample of all Jewish Israelis.

The report also argued that Jews are highly connected to Jerusalem. JPPI asked Dialogue participants to coin slogans meant to strengthen the connection of Jerusalem to world Jewry, and many proposed taglines such as “Jerusalem – Welcome Home” and “Jerusalem – Our City.” Half “completely” agreed with the statement “When visiting Jerusalem I feel at home,” and 30 percent more “somewhat” agreed with this statement. And, of course, not all Jews connect to Jerusalem with similar intensity. The sense of connection among Jews around the world is stronger for religious Jews than for secular Jews and stronger among Orthodox Jews than Reform Jews. In Israel, based on JPPI’s survey of Israelis, it is stronger among Jews who define themselves as “right wing” than among Jews who self-identify as “left wing.”

What we do not have in the JPPI data but do have now, thanks to Walla news (they used the same pollster we use at JPPI, Menachem Lazar of Panels Politics), is numbers on how many Israeli Jews visit the parts of Jerusalem that make the city a special place – that is, the holy city, the old city, or, if you want to describe it in political terms, the eastern part of the city.

The survey asked Jewish Israelis when was the last time they visited East Jerusalem. 50% of Jewish Israelis reported that they’ve been to eastern parts of Jerusalem in the last year. I was surprised by this number. It seems high. An additional 30% of Israeli Jews reported having been to East Jerusalem in the past five years. Only 3% say there have never been to that part of Jerusalem (12% have been there in the “last decade”).

What do we learn from this? We learn that at least some of the familiar the-city-is-already-divided song is not accurate. 80% of Jewish Israelis have visited the eastern part of Jerusalem in the past five years. It’s hard to believe that a similar number would have visited these areas had they not been under Israeli jurisdiction. Should they therefore remain under Israeli jurisdiction? A majority of Jewish Israelis say yes. But their answer is not always consistent – as is the answer of JPPI dialogue participants (that is, highly engaged Jews from around the world).

As JPPI reported: “when it comes to the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the issue of who should control the city, and whether there should be a compromise that divides the city between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews are more ambivalent, and at times even contradictory. On the one hand, a clear majority of more than 70 percent agreed that ‘The Temple Mount must remain under Israeli jurisdiction.’ A 55 percent majority agreed that ‘Jerusalem should never be divided.’”

Yet, “when presented with a more nuanced statement regarding a theoretical peace arrangement they responded differently”. 61% of world Jews that we interviewed agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement: “In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, if satisfied with the rest of the agreement, Israel should be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.”

So “even though a majority oppose a division of Jerusalem, and even though a majority oppose non-Israeli control over the ‘Holy Basin’ – a clear majority was still willing to ‘compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction’ under the above-mentioned circumstances of a satisfactory, durable peace agreement.” A confusing, contradictory, position. As confusing as the state of Jerusalem.