Celebrating Jerusalem Day, 2020: Equality and Opportunity for All
Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, is as moving to me as it was when I first marked it as a new immigrant to the country in 2001. Today, as deputy mayor of Jerusalem, I am working for the prosperity of our eternal capital, and the city’s development is, in my view, an inseparable part of Israel’s independence story.
My role as deputy mayor includes managing the city’s “foreign portfolio,” which means developing Jerusalem’s foreign relations, tourism and economic development.
Jerusalem is not only our national capital, past and present — it is also an international city. Promoting this city’s ties throughout the world, through the fields of business, diplomacy, culture and building partnerships, is my work and passion. The continued development of our capital is a confluence of my personal, national, and professional callings.
When I first moved to Israel, during the height of the Second Intifada, I was motivated by a strong sense of Zionism. After 2,500 years, we could again practice full self-determination and independence as a Jewish people. The Jewish people were in the best place we had ever been in our history — and I simply had to be a part of that.
Doing so in March 2001, meant that my husband and I arrived during a very difficult period: the peak of the wave of terror. Murderous attacks were taking place almost every week — aboard buses, in restaurants, most of them in Jerusalem.
Today, I am grateful for the fact that I wake up every day in the Land of Israel with the people of Israel, and that I am privileged to be able to advance our eternal capital.
Yet for immigrants to Israel such as me, who know what it is like to be a minority elsewhere, a unified Jerusalem as the heart of our independent state, brings an extra level of significance; one that has deeply influenced the way in which I work for our capital.
I grew up as a Spanish-speaking British citizen in Gibraltar, south of Spain, where my father served as chief minister. My family history tells the story of Jews expelled during the Spanish Inquisition. At the age of 19, I moved to Britain, where I lived and studied for nine years. I spent much of my life living in Jewish communities. To this day, that experience ensures that I remain sensitive to the needs of minorities and am dedicated to championing diversity.
Those principles have particular relevance in Jerusalem, where 37% of our residents are Arab. We work very hard for Jerusalem’s Arab population, through a number of national and international initiatives.
Defending minorities is a Jewish value. In the Torah, the command to “love the stranger” appears 20 times more often than “love your neighbor.” In Jerusalem, I implement that value through the economic development of the Arab community — facilitating hi-tech investment, quality employment, increased access to higher education, small business loans, and investors. I believe we are a single, indivisible city, and that means we must improve the quality of life for all residents, Jews and Arabs alike.
We have our challenges. Jerusalem is the poorest city in the country, because we are home to the two populations most in need of economic development — the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox communities.
Gaining the participation of national and international companies within Jerusalem is a core objective of mine because of the high quality employment opportunities that they deliver, including for those two communities. This, I believe, is the only way forward. Jerusalem has attracted significant development from the fields of hi-tech innovation and biotech. Jerusalem-based companies have become unicorn companies (worth over 1 billion dollars) on a global scale. We must ensure that these types of opportunities are available for all residents. There is no reason why the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities should not be an integral part of the start-up nation’s overall prosperity.
One of the ways that Jerusalem remains ahead of the curve is the methodology we employ to build bridges between industry and academia. We believe that these links are part of the DNA of our city, and we actively seek ways to add value in partnerships wherever we can.
The work being done to develop our national capital has national ramifications. The challenges in the city are the ones that the State of Israel writ large will face 30 years from now, as the demography of the country starts to mirror the demography of Jerusalem today.
Unfortunately, the economic toll caused by the global coronavirus pandemic has been especially heavy in Jerusalem. With our heavy reliance on tourism, the blow that was dealt to that sector has had reverberations throughout the city.
In response to that, we’ve set up a tourism recovery committee, the task of which is to learn from other cities that have begun to recover from the pandemic. Our goal is to get the deactivated tourism industry workers back to work as quickly as possible, whilst promoting local tourism as a way to get the industry upright once again.
I believe that Jerusalem can be a model for a post-corona, tourist city. Ultimately, we hope to return to better days, swiftly — and we have the talent necessary to ensure that this happens.
On this Jerusalem Day, we can celebrate the fact that Jerusalem’s development is intrinsically intertwined with the story of our renewed independence. That fact inspires me to work for the city’s success each and every day.
The author is a publishing Expert at the MirYam Institute. She is the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.