Charity boss explains how his experience with zoo politics will help him improve Jerusalem

Shai Doron, who has taken the helm at the Jerusalem Foundation, speaks to Anshel Pfeffer


Jerusalem’s zoo is not just a place where human beings come to look at animals. It is literally the only place in the city where residents of the three separate Jerusalems — the “pluralistic” Jewish city, the Strictly Orthodox city and the Palestinian city — come together by choice.

So it should not be a surprise that the zoo’s chief executive of 25 years, Shai Doron, was appointed as the new president of the Jerusalem Foundation in November.

It is one of the largest philanthropic foundations in Israel, dedicated to the sensitive and often contradictory task of funding cultural, educational and social projects for all of Jerusalem’s disparate communities.

“My main lesson from running the zoo is that it’s about the humans,” says Mr Doron. “You need great zoologists and vets, but public awareness of wildlife conversation is up to humans and the main thing about my years in the zoo was making a place that was open to everyone, Jews, Arab, Charedim, secular, locals and tourists, young and old.”

“It was a place open on Shabbat, yet 30 per cent of the visitors were Charedim — and not just those who receive municipal services, but also Eda Charedit,” he added, referring to the Strictly Orthodox groups who refuse any connection with the Israeli authorities.

This inclusive vision that Mr Doron brought to the Jerusalem zoo — installing an entire team of Arabic-speaking guides, and posting the sign “this is not a pig” at the peccary enclosure — is what he plans to bring now to the Jerusalem Foundation.

The foundation, founded 50 years ago by late Mayor Teddy Kollek for whom Mr Doron worked for as chief of staff in 1988-92, has to tread carefully amid Jerusalem’s diversity.

It has been controversial in the past, particularly under Mayor Kollek’s successor Ehud Olmert who fought its management for control and at one point even tried to start a competing foundation.

Throughout his interview with the JC, Mr Doron resolutely evaded any political questions.

“I don’t want to point fingers at anyone,” he said. “We need to fix past injustices. Since 1967, neighbourhood sports centres were built around Jerusalem, but not one in an Arab neighbourhood.

“And just as we now plan a swimming pool in [the Palestinian neighbourhood] Beit Hanina, we need to address the fact that there isn’t a day centre for Charedi senior citizens in Romema.

“We’re not City Hall, we’re not in charge of housing solutions, or building schools and infrastructure. We’re here for the added value, for making Jerusalem a better and more open city.”

But while Mr Doron says he is preparing a “master plan for Jerusalem in 2030”, he realises that the fundraising landscape has also changed.

He arrives this weekend in London to launch a “Shared Living in Jerusalem Fund” with the Foundation’s UK supporters in honour of long-time donors Dame Vivien Duffield, Martin Paisner and Lord Rothschild.

While the Foundation continues to rely on Jewish diaspora donors, he says Israelis now “need to step up. Today, they give less than 10 per cent of our entire fundraising. It’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, one key development Mr Doron is proud of is the first donations from Palestinian businesspeople. “Sadly, I can’t yet disclose their identities, but two Palestinian donors have recently given money to the Jerusalem Foundation. They realise their money will be put to good use here for their community.”

Mr Doron acknowledges some question the need to donate to Jerusalem, given Israel is now quite prosperous and some disagree deeply with the current government’s policies.

“My answers are clear. The needs of this city are still enormous and if you don’t like the current situation, the only to effect change is by becoming partners.”



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