It’s time to turn Jerusalem into a city that can lead the world – in innovation, culture and growth.Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, is the curator of many historical treasures and a focal point that attracts Jews and non-Jews alike throughout the world. Jerusalem also serves as the seat of Israel’s governmental authorities and national institutions, and a center for research and philanthropic institutes from all over the world. Jerusalem is characterized as a “scholar’s city”, a center for higher education and scientific research, with special emphasis placed on medicine and biotechnology. In spite of these advantages, of all Israel’s larger cities, Jerusalem is the poorest and its public image is on a downward spiral.
The city’s deteriorating economic situation over the last three decades is the key reason for the negative migration of its Zionistic, younger and stronger population, which in turn has aggravated the economic situation and developed into a vicious circle. Just between years 2003-6, the balance in negative migration has stood at 24,000 and a total of 64,900 people have left the city during these years.
It is important to note that most of those leaving the city are well-educated young adults up to the age of 34, both secular and National Religious and belonging to the middle-to-upper socio-economic level. The main reason for their departure is a lack of employment options. Their departure is an influencing factor in the lowering of the general standard of living.
Despite the comparative prosperity enjoyed by many Israelis over the last few years, the continuing economic weakness of Jerusalem indicates that urgent and vigorous action is needed to reverse the existing trend and to develop the economy of the city. This will help halt the negative migration of the more established families and will encourage young people and public servants to make the decision to live in the city and its surroundings.
Not only a city, a metropolis
So what should be done to change these current trends in the status of Jerusalem? In my opinion, we have to focus on employment development and on perceiving Jerusalem not only as a city, but as a metropolis.
The Jerusalem metropolis is comprised of Gush-Etzion to the south of Jerusalem, the Edumim area to the east, Mevaseret-Tzion and its surroundings to the west and of the area to the north of the city. Viewing these areas as part of the metropolis can enable new solutions to two of the main problems the city is currently facing. First, it will increase the city’s land reserves, thus lowering the skyrocketing housing prices and increasing the reserves for industry and tourism. Second, it will create more employment options for young people.
Regarding Employment Development, we need to specialize in three clusters in which Jerusalem possesses a competitive advantage: tourism and culture, medicine and biotechnology, and outsourcing.
Jerusalem possesses unique historical assets that are over 3,000 years old which have the potential for economic development. Therefore, Jerusalem has to re-brand itself as a magnet to tourists and as a source of inspiration to the Jewish nation – as a “light unto the nations”.
A “brand” like Jerusalem can bring more than 10 million tourists annually within a decade, but in order to achieve that, the city must develop suitable infrastructure. Also, it has to develop unique and unforgettable tourism experiences, which are ideological, spiritual and historical and that connect the past, present and future. This can be achieved by significantly increasing the city’s investments in arts and crafts, improving and upgrading the services available to tourists, and supporting international conferences in those spheres where the city has a competitive edge, and by re-planning ancient Jerusalem.
In the fields of medicine and biotechnology, Jerusalem has to brand itself as a city that is a world leader in specific medical areas where there is a clear competitive edge. This can be achieved by development in fields like: stem cell research, cardiology, fertility, cancer research and orthopedics.
In addition, there should be development in specialist fields. This should include importing leading international medical specialists, supplying government and municipal incentives that will translate into significant investments, and developing medical tourism and medical conferences in these fields.
Jerusalem can develop a flourishing industry built around outsourcing, a sphere in which the city’s population certainly has an international competitive edge. Outsourcing has huge employment opportunities, with enormous potential for future growth.
Jerusalem is blessed with quality manpower which can offer competitive prices in the international arena, but first we need to develop 20,000 jobs for a wide range of Jerusalem’s population who are multilingual.
Secondly, we need to assist in stabilizing Jerusalem’s economy at a time of crisis. This can be achieved if we will focus on three areas: setting up an outsourcing center in the following niche markets: medicine, finance, law, accounting, computer programming, etc; aligning government incentives with employer and entrepreneur requirements in order to set up outsourcing centers in Jerusalem; marketing Jerusalem internationally as a preferential place for outsourcing.
For many years, too many people have been discussing how we should divide Jerusalem. I have always believed – especially in light of the fact that we have no real partner with whom to discuss peace – that the discussions about Jerusalem should not be about how to divide the city, but rather how to build and strengthen it.
The Jerusalem of today and of future generations must be a city that can lead: as a leader in innovation, a leader in culture and a leader in growth. Jerusalem’s ability to successfully meet the challenges it faces is largely dependent upon developing the city’s economy, and our ability to make the city flourish.
We all have an obligation to help Jerusalem stride forward, to turn the city into a model to be emulated by other cities, for “out of Zion shall the Torah come forth”. We are committed to making the city’s growth our top priority and to helping develop its unique qualities and resources.