In an anguished column, Ha’aretz’s Uzi Benziman warns that Jerusalem — Israel’s capital and the spiritual heart of world Jewry — is being ceded to its ultra-Orthodox population:
For years the Jewish/ultra-Orthodox component in the Jerusalem landscape has been increasingly crowding out the colorful mosaic that characterized it in the past. Not only secular and moderate Orthodox people have become a minority in the city - the multinational and multireligious minorities that once bustled through the city’s streets seem to have withdrawn in the face of ultra-Orthodox domination.
Predictions show that in seven years the number of schoolchildren aged six to 14 in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions will be three times the number in state secular and state Orthodox schools.
The state and the wider public treat this trend complacently: They leave it to Jerusalemites to determine their municipal fate. The most productive population in the city has indeed drawn its own conclusions and is leaving in droves - there has been negative migration of about 60,000 over the past five years.
Why should it matter that Jerusalem is becoming increasingly ultra-Orthodox? Well, for starters, there’s the matter of Israel’s capital being dominated by a population that is, for the most part, either non-Zionist or anti-Zionist and, by and large, doesn’t serve in the Israeli military. Then, there’s the fact that the ultra-Orthodox community hasn’t been the most tolerant steward of the city, whether it was the ugly resistance to gay pride events in Jerusalem or the ridiculous insistence that young girl dancers cover up at the celebration for the city’s new Santiago Calatrava bridge.
But Benziman directs most of his anger, not at Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community, but rather at the larger Israeli public, which, he suggests, seems remarkably indifferent to Jerusalem’s fate. Perhaps they forgot the words of the Psalmist: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” The ultra-Orthodox, it seems, have not forgotten.