“I wouldn’t trust [Israeli Arabs] for anything”

A new study of Israeli youth paints a picture of bigotry and intolerance. How on earth is this the basis for future “democracy”?

Apparently unwilling to question mainstream narratives regarding the futility of peace or the venality of politics most young people in Israel are no vanguard for social or political change. They do, however, crave the bonds of national unity. For Jewish youth, “Us against them” seems to be emerging as a convenient source. Hence the notion that Israel must be a “Jewish state” ranks as first priority among Jewish youth – a change from past years, when peace or democracy came first.

Fear, too, is a unifying factor, feeding distrust of others. Sixty percent of young Jews believe the state faces an existential threat. One interviewee said: “I wouldn’t trust [Israeli Arabs] for anything. I’ll keep my distance on the smallest chance that he’ll stick a knife in my back … ” One-quarter think the secular-religious divide is dangerous; one-fifth think the left-right divide endangers Israel.

Belief in coexistence is a casualty of all this. In a battery of questions about coexistence behavior, barely half of young Jews polled would consider things like going to the home of an Arab (37 percent ) or having an Arab friend (52 percent ). Among Arabs, the rates range from 58 percent to 81 percent. When Jews were asked their feelings about Arabs, most say they have none; the second-ranked answer is “hatred” (27 percent ). Perhaps most troubling, democracy itself seems less important than identity. Although the vast majority in our study says democracy is theoretically important, 46 percent of Jews are willing to limit the rights of Arabs to be elected to Knesset and three-quarters say security concerns trump democracy.

It’s important to realize that the “youth” are not monolithic. Secular Jews are significantly more supportive of democratic values and coexistence than religious youngsters, reflecting fundamentally different world views. Arab youngsters are the most supportive of democratic principles; it is logical, but ironic, that Arabs could become the strongest advocates for Israeli democracy.

When interviewed, people did not seem aware of the contradictions inherent in, for example, supporting democracy in theory but not in reality, or in feeling disgust for public life, but showing little interest in changing it.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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