Tonight began the Seventh Annual Jerusalem Conference. A great deal more will follow in the next two days, but I’m delighted to share the beginning here:
The theme for the opening plenary was “Uniting the City of Jerusalem,” a theme that is welcome indeed.
Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem — and a splendid mayor he is — offered the Keynote Address, in which he shared his vision for the city. The success of Jerusalem, he says, affects the success of the Jewish people. What he is working for is a new vision, with plans, renewal, and egalitarian programming with uniform rules for all segments of the population. (See below for more on the political battle in which Barkat is immersed, with regard to this.)
Minister Benny Begin (Likud) spoke about the regrettable fact that for too long security issues have taken center stage when Jerusalem is discussed, while our natural and historical rights here as a Jewish people are ignored.
There is no equity of peoples and religions when it comes to rights to Jerusalem, he maintains. (The equity is only in how people are treated inside the city.) We have the essential rights over the city and must maintain sovereignty.
Would we expect less of Benny? No. But it’s lovely to hear, nonetheless, as the opening theme for the Conference — with a position made very clear.
Natan Sharansky, who now heads the Jewish Agency, gave a very personal talk. He shared recollections from the time when he was still a very assimilated Jew in the USSR — recognizing himself as a Jew only because of persecution. Somehow word filtered in about the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, and every Jew stood taller. Officials looked at them with more respect. When finally he was brought out, and came to Israel, he asked to come straight to the Kotel.
Years later, when he accompanied Ethiopian Jews on the plane that brought them to Israel, he found they had no common language, no way to speak to each other. That is, until someone mentioned Jerusalem, and he saw how the Ethiopians became excited. Jerusalem, which is a bond for Jews everywhere, must be preserved as such.
Journalist Nadav Shragai reminded us that Arab residents of Jerusalem are opposed to the division of the city. They don’t want to live under the Palestinian Authority, because they value their freedom, their health care, their opportunities for employments and all the rest.
He posed a question for our government: How is Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) seen? The perception of it, he suggests, is distorted now. For as things stand, and as the police manage matters, we Jews are not even permitted to pray there (note: so as not to upset the Arabs, who might riot). But praying there is a Jewish right.
Briefly, as to the legal battle in which Mayor Barkat is immersed:
Beit Yonaton, a seven-story house in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was built as a residence for Jews by the organization Ateret Cohanim. Silwan is now Arab, but at one time was a community in which many Yemenite Jews lived — until they were driven out. Those who built the house saw it as an opportunity to permit the return of Jews.
Because of the building’s height, it does not conform to regulations. As it was put up without proper permits, a court ordered that the residents be evicted and the house sealed. Barkat replied that if this house had to come down, he would act against dozens of illegal Arab houses built in the area, evicting their residents and applying one rule for all. His alternative proposal was that means be found to legalize Beit Yonaton and at the same time to provide Arabs now living in illegally built homes new legal housing — with a park, Gan Hamelech, to be built in the area. Many across the political spectrum thought this a reasonable compromise.
However, State prosecutor Moshe Lador has been fighting Barkat on this. Under duress the mayor has said he would evict the residents of Beit Yonaton, but several Arab residents of illegal housing at the same time. This has yet to play out to the end.
See a more extensive description of the situation here: http://imra.org.il/story.php3?id=47221
The bill that would require funding transparency for non-government organizations has been approved by the Knesset Law Committee. This bill, which would require organizations to declare all funding by foreign governments, is being sponsored by Ze’ev Elkin, Coalition Chair.
The bill must go through several other steps before it becomes law, but this is an encouraging start.