Recent studies show that the Israeli youth is no less patriotic than the adult population, is significantly more right-wing, and is highly motivated to enlist to the IDF's combat units. But it seems that another characteristic trait of the Israeli youth is indifference – as it will not strive to undermine social norms or wage social struggles.
March 2009 saw a record in the number of recruits eligible for combat service requesting to enlist to combat units, which stood at 73%. This record was broken in November, and stood at 73.7%. March 2010 saw a new record: 76% of recruits with high medical profiles asked to serve in combat units. "This trend of attraction to the combat units is well felt in the field, and reflects a significant decline in the dropout rate during training," a senior officer told Ynet.
Along with this increase in combat motivation comes a rise in nationalism. For example, a recent poll showed that 46% of Jewish high school students in Israel object to granting equal rights to Arabs. [How is this an example of nationalism? Nationalism and racism are not synonymous, nor is nationalism inherently racist.]
Professor Oz Almog, an expert on the Israeli society at Haifa University, offered a simple explanation: "The difference between the Israeli youth and its western counterpart, with regards to the military and patriotism, stems from the fact that here we are faced with a war of survival, and there, the policy addresses combat in faraway countries. Here there is mandatory military service, and there, many do not serve. Here we have terror, and there it is a rare sight."
Others point to the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead as responsible for the recent rise in motivation. But there are those that say this is not necessarily a positive trend.
"The youth here is brought up on patriotism and the justness of our cause at any cost, and from here stems the lack of willingness to justify anyone else, and the one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Professor Shifra Sagy, head of the conflict management and resolution program at Ben Gurion University.
Sagy believes that the mandatory military recruitment indoctrinates the youth to "see the justness in our side alone. This leads the youth to become more patriotic later on and to identify with the Israeli side." As a result, Sagy says, the Israeli youth does not see the other side, and holds extreme views, "under the patronage of the education system, the schoolbooks, the media and the social atmosphere. This is why youths here are different from their counterparts, who, in western countries, can allow themselves to hold more pluralistic views."
Several weeks ago a poll conducted by the Smith Institute for Ynet showed that the dominant right-wing bloc in the Israeli society remains strong. According to the survey, while 35% of Israelis over the age of 30 said they would vote for right-wing parties, this number almost doubled for youths up to the age of 29, and stood at 61%.
Support for the Likud party rose from 18% to 25%, while support of the religious and ultra-Orthodox parties among the youth was also significantly high. "This is the Israeli existence… the public is moving Right," the survey said.
Professor Almog explains: "The Israeli youth is not more right-wing than its counterparts around the globe, but is simply more realistic." He said this is due to the fact that it is more involved and has a deeper political understanding than youth in other Western countries. "In Israel it is hard to avoid the news, and involvement is forced on you. The youth looks at the leadership in the Arab world and sees no moderation. It sees the incitement, and opposes it. The Israeli youth is simply more skeptical and holds a more angry perception of the other side."
Professor Ephraim Yaar a sociology and social psychology expert at Tel Aviv University who specializes in the Israeli society said, "The election results show that the youth is becoming more nationalistic, this is the spirit of the times. It is expressed in the voting booths – but not just there. Signs of nationalism can bee seen in various different fields among the youth here. This trend has been in existence for a long time, and has gained steam in the past decade."
The change, he said, stems among other things from the consistent growth of the religious and ultra-Orthodox population, but "is also part of another trend – the Israeli youth is very conformist, so when the public moves to the Right, the Israeli youth moves with it."
[I'm a little puzzled by the attempt to pin the increase in nationalism on the growth of the Haredi population. I wonder how exactly they measured nationalism and patriotism in this study...]
While students around the world have been known to lead protests against social issues, the Israeli student remains indifferent. The Tel Aviv University Student Union has issued an open letter to the Israeli youth saying, "We have yet to witness a sweeping student struggle, one that has managed to get the masses of students and youths to the streets to identify with other populations, a struggle based on the students' inclusive and coherent view of the country and society in which they live."
According to Professor Yaar, this trend is nothing new: "As far back as the 1960s, when research began in this field, it was clear that the student here is simply indifferent. While in the United States and Europe students and youths initiated various social struggles, such as the battle against Vietnam and discrimination against the blacks, in Israel the approach was much more nationalistic, and the youth's pattern of behavior was of mobilizing for the flag. Our attempts in the past, as young staff members, to arouse the students' involvement in the environment and the society, quickly failed because they students were not interested."
Professor Sagy agrees with this claim, and links it to the youth's nationalistic assembly under the flag: "In the United States they were able to elect a black president because the stereotypes there have declined. Here, everyone wants to be alike. There is a fear of being different. All the systems here lead to conservatism, which is very prominent among the teens and youths. Stereotyping is generally not characteristic of youth – which in other places, makes some noise. Here, most of the youth does not allow itself, and this is why there is no rebellion or real protest."
Professor Yaar points to a more practical cause of the indifference: "The Israeli youths join the army, serve three years, and when they are done with the military and their trip, they come back in their early 20s, more mature and with other concerns on their minds, and they hope to build a family and start a career. At the age of 18-19, while the Israelis are in the military, the Europeans are free to burn chairs and fight. A combination of these factors damages idealism."
Ella Koblentz, 26 of Ariel, an activist in the Likud party's Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish leadership) movement, rejects claims that the Israeli youth is indifferent. "Recently youths do care, and not just through Facebook. You can see it on the ground, in the form of student organization on various issues, and even among high school students who are far more involved and active then they were a few years ago."
Yoni Berliner, 24, from Har Bracha, also defended the Israeli youth: "The youth here has a firm political and social identity. It is more opinionated, patriotic and mature than its counterpart in the Western world. Protests are no measure, perhaps the youth simply does not believe in their power – just like the 'Orange Youth' that no longer believes in demonstrations after the expulsion from Gush Katif."
Ran Rovner, 24, of Yokneam, who heads the Kadima unit at the Hebrew University, said, "The youth is not passive and does not just protest over tuition. Two weeks ago we held a food drive for the holiday and within days, dozens joined. I see the protesters in Sheikh Jarrah – they are all young. I am an assistant in the reserves and I see the youth flocking, even if it comes at the expense of school or work. What about the activity for Gilad Shalit and the struggle against the mehadrin busses? All these things prove the power of the youth."