With the Mideast peace process in a state of collapse, a new existential clash looms over Israel — and Palestinians aren’t involved. In this week’s issue of TIME magazine, Jerusalem bureau chief Karl Vick outlines the sectarian war consuming this ancient holy city: a conflict between Ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. Vick tells the tale through one Ultra-Orthodox recently arrived in Jerusalem and another secularist seeking to stem the tide. He writes:
Both men own apartments in a neighborhood called Kiryat Yovel, a seemingly serene urban glade that is sizing up as the Somme or perhaps Little Big Horn. In a city of almost 800,000 people, Kiryat Yovel may be the last stand for Jews like Pinchasi, seculars who for decades have been fleeing the city in droves. Some 20,000 have left in the past seven years alone, reducing the share of the population who wear their faith lightly from a 37% plurality to a 31% minority, the same percentage as the ultra-Orthodox, but the number of ultra–Orthodox is rising. (About 35% of Jerusalem is Muslim Palestinian, with the remainder Christian or undeclared.)
It’s a flight much of Israel is watching with concern bordering on alarm. The ultra-Orthodox are the fastest growing population in a Jewish state long governed by seculars but lately grappling with just how Jewish it wants to be. Not three months after Benjamin Netanyahu assembled what was called a broad coalition of extraordinary stability, it flew apart over the question of what to do about the ultra-Orthodox. The centrist Kadima party returned to opposition after Netanyahu refused to alienate the religious parties by requiring their youth to serve in the military. Draft avoidance is just one privilege. The ultra-Orthodox, whose hermetic lifestyle may be based on preoccupation with the next world but whose political clout defines savvy in this one, also enjoy subsidies for child care, education and housing. The community’s power only grows with its numbers. Uncontained, it stands to fundamentally alter Israel’s identity.
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