Jewish leaders around the world are worried about strictly Orthodox dominance in Jerusalem, even more than the impact of Arab population growth, according to a major new study on Diaspora Jewry.
The Jewish People Policy Institute asked 500 Jewish people around the world, most of them community leaders, how they felt about the fast growth of Arab and Charedi populations in Jerusalem.
The think-tank was told in focus groups that diaspora Jews see a growing Charedi population as having a negative effect on Jerusalem’s character, with a growing Arab population having a lesser impact.
Shmuel Rosner, one of the directors of the study, said that this came out in conversations and also in exercises that he asked interviewees to do.
When they were asked to choose a new mayor for Jerusalem in a mock election, an Arab candidate with a manifesto reflecting common Arab beliefs fared far better than a Charedi candidate who represented his community.
“The Charedi candidate was a non-starter for the vast majority of the people in the focus groups,” said Mr Rosner.
A community member in St Louis, Missouri, commented in a focus group: “I have a problem with control and domination by the Haredim, who I see as intolerant.”
Only 28 per cent of people that the JPPI spoke to said that Charedi population growth is a “positive development” because it allows Jews of different outlooks to live together, while some 45 per cent saw Arab population growth as a “positive development” because it sees Jews and Arabs live together.
Avinoam Bar-Yosef, president of the JPPI, said that diaspora leaders “are worried that it will make those who are not Orthodox feel less comfortable in Jerusalem.”
He pointed to an apparent contradiction in the study: while respondents were more concerned about Charedi population growth, one of their main hopes is that Jerusalem continues to have more Jewish residents than Arab residents.
When people focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, their priority is for Jerusalem to maintain its Jewish majority — which is most strongly propped up by high Charedi birth rates.
But when Diaspora leaders are reflecting on what they want the character of Jerusalem to look like, they tend to talk about liberal and pluralistic values, and feel that Charedim are an obstacle to these.
Mr Bar-Yosef said: “If you ask what you would like to have as the character of Jerusalem, all of them want a Jewish majority, but when you talk about Charedim people feel that because of them there is less pluralism.”
Arabs, on the other hand, are seen as a separate group whose views do not have an impact on questions like who should control rules about prayer at the Western Wall.
Mr Bar-Yosef said that interviewees “feel that the Arab population doesn’t impact the freedom of liberal Jews to feel at home in Jerusalem whereas Haredim are impacting their personal lives.”