Arieh O'Sullivan
The Media Line
April 7, 2011 - 12:00am

A generation ago one of the most popular Israeli songs was You and Me Can Change the World. Today’s youth are more likely to be anxious over who’s going to win the Big Brother reality television show.

A recent poll of Israeli youth, both Jews and Arabs, has shown that they are becoming more ambivalent and alienated and, when they do express themselves, tend to be more intolerant than their elders, if not holding downright undemocratic views.

A study by Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation found that six out of 10 Israeli teenagers prefer strong leadership over democracy, and 46% support revoking some basic political rights, such as the right of an Arabs to be elected to parliament.

According to the Youth Survey, the third after polls taken in 1998 and 2004, promoting Jewish identity is now held by young people as the most important objective of the state, pushing aside democracy, which fell to third place. Peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors should be the country’s second most important objective, the respondents said.

“The main finding is that the young are moving more to the right,” said Roby Nathanson, director-general the Macro Center for Political Economics, who cooperated with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in conducting the poll.

“For youth today, living in a Jewish state has overtaken the need to forge a peace deal with its Arab neighbors and Palestinians as their top priority,” Nathanson told The Media Line.

But he stressed that the results of the survey showed what appeared to be contrary trends.

“They are very much in favor of the peace process still, but they aren’t ready to make compromises. They would like social justice and equality, but are very much in favor of minimizing intervention of the government in the market or the economy,” Nathanson said.

The polls comes as the latest effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has stalled. But the freeze hasn’t caused a major political fallout, with the Israeli and Palestinian economies thriving and violence at relatively low levels. Across the Middle East, mass protests have brought down leaders and paralyzed countries, but in the Palestinian-ruled areas, protests have been small and focus on restoring national unity between the rival Palestinians movements, Hamas and Fatah.

The survey was carried out in 2010 among a representative sample of Israeli Jewish and Arab youth between the ages of 15-18 and 21 -24.

“The generation of 2011 is different. This is already the generation that has grown up with the Internet and social networking, so this is having an enormous impact,” Nathanson said. “They get a large amount of information, but are ambiguous and don’t necessarily have a clear cut position on things. … It doesn’t interest them so much.”

Amid growing prosperity and dulled existential threats, with the violence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin beyond the reach of their memories, youth are largely disengaged from the big political questions of the day.

In 1998, the same poll found that a plurality of Israelis (44%) saw the divisions between secular and religious Jews as the biggest rift in society. According to the 2010 poll, the biggest schism is between Israelis Jews and Israeli Arabs, who constitute about a fifth of the population. Researchers said this shows a greater move to the right. In 1998, it found that 32% of teens defined themselves as left-wing. By 2010, the proportion dropped to only 12%.

Israeli Arabs expressed more support for the equal rights of the minority. But the majority of them didn’t accept the principle of Israel as a Jewish state, Nathanson said.

Meanwhile, a separate poll released this week showed a greater desire by Palestinians to stage non-violent demonstrations similar to the ones sweeping across the Arab world. But the survey showed that the vast majority of both Palestinians (66%) and Israelis (73%) believed that peaceful protest wouldn’t end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank or lead to the dismantling of communities there.

Released jointly by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) and the Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at The Hebrew University, the poll said 67% of Gazans and 52% of West Bank Palestinians felt a need to organize demonstrations in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. But Palestinians in the West Bank were virtually split when it came to feeling a need to organize demonstrations against occupation (50% against versus 47% in favor).

While Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have stood aloof of the wave of protests across the Middle East, several Facebook pages have been launched to organize mass demonstrations by millions of Palestinian on May 15, when Palestinians mark the anniversary of the Nakba, the term they use for the founding of Israel. The PCPSR/Truman poll shouldn’t give organizers much encouragement.

And, when it came to demonstrating against the ruling Palestinian Authority, support for peaceful protest dropped to just 36%.

“The Palestinians are less optimistic than other Arabs about the possibility that occupation could be ended through demonstrations,” Walid Ladadweh of PCPSR told The Media Line. “They believe it is harder to remove the [Israeli] occupation than it is to remove Arab dictators.”


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