Peace in the language of millennials

“Peace” is passé. “Peace” in the 21st century is no longer a buzzword that will arouse young Israelis and move them into the streets or voting booths. Israeli millennials are tired and despairing.

January 6, 2015 22:51
4 minute read.
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Incitement on Facebook page [file]. (photo credit: Courtesy)

March 17 is fast approaching, and with it another opportunity for young Israelis to influence their future. While the different parties have used many slogans to target young voters, “peace” is not among them.

“Peace” is passé. “Peace” in the 21st century is no longer a buzzword that will arouse young Israelis and move them into the streets or voting booths. Israeli millennials are tired and despairing. A 2013 survey by Zogby Research shows that while 57 percent of young Israelis desire a two-state solution, only 25% think it is possible. The Israeli millennial generation was raised in a world without Yitzhak Rabin, witnessing instead the break up of the Oslo Accords.

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And yet, more than the price of cottage cheese, peace is the issue of greatest significance for Israeli lives.

Countless NGOs and educational programs seek to focus the attention of the millennials on the need for peace, so that it can become an issue that sways votes and excites.

To do so, these organizations and programs must speak to the millennials in their own digital, pragmatic language.

Young Israelis are part of a new global generation of digital media users and fast-paced communication, and so their language and modes of engagement are different from those of the past. Scholar Mark Prensky coined the term “digital immigrants” to describe the millennial generation, explaining that like immigrants, this generation is socialized differently and retains an “accent” in every environment. He emphasized that in order to engage the members of the digital generation, they must be spoken to in their own language – fast and interactive. Young people expect immediate reactions and want measurable impact.

When it comes to political participation, millennials show the same characteristics. In a recent study, Hollie Gilman showed that American millennials are less likely to identify with a political party than previous generations. Gilman explains that, “More than ideology, millennials want results. Unlike previous generations that were highly influenced by partisan brand loyalty, millennials are more concerned with outcomes. They... are less concerned with whether the solution comes from a specific party.” While only 37% of the “boomer” generation in America identifies as independent, 50% of millennials do. A Pew research center poll shows that the majority of millennials registered to vote in the United States are independents, and only 31% think there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Furthermore, this generation is unique in the degree of disillusionment with government as a vehicle for change. Millennials do not believe politics are a way to achieve change and are more likely to gravitate toward non-traditional engagement such as volunteering and social media. 44% of millennials on social networking sites use social media to “like” or promote political material and 42% to post thoughts on issues.

These findings suggest that social media and interactive projects can be a gateway for appealing to millennials on political issues.

In order to remedy the apathy of young Israelis, it is critical to start more organizations that relate to millennials on their own terms.

This generation no longer believes in traditional methods or in brands like “peace,” but they can be won over with solutions with measurable impact. One example of this strategy is the organization “Yala Young Leaders.” The organization is Facebook-based, and has grown to include nearly half a million members from all over the Middle East, including over 14,500 Israelis.

Its mission is to create a safe space for dialogue and collaboration between young people in the region. Yala’s work includes a café blog that allows users to share their creative works and stories, online negotiation courses and other platforms for connection. Yala proves easily accessible to the multitudes of young people on Facebook, and demonstrates the “pragmatic” mentality millennials crave.

Another potential route is economic collaboration projects. In Israel, millennials seem increasingly occupied with economic issues, as evidenced by the 2011 social protests.

A joint Israeli-Arab start-up or other such collaboration would be feasible and trendy. It would foster interaction and dialogue between two isolated groups of young people, interaction that is essential in order for people to care about the peace process. A project explaining the economic repercussions of continued conflict, how it affects prices of apartments and cottage cheese and the everyday lives of Israelis, may be another way to appeal to millennials.

Israeli millennials breath air polluted with distrust, racism and fatigue. Millenials are also the next generation to deal with the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and peace in Israel depends on them.

This generation is characterized by the use of digital media, non-traditional modes of civic engagement and attraction to results rather than ideologies. In a war fueled by conflicting ideologies, and of negotiations stymied by the continued reliance on traditional models, the distinctive characteristics of the millenials can be put to use. Creating more projects that show immediate results and utilize online platforms can restore faith in peace so that it may once again draw young people to the voting booths.

The writer is a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies and a graduate student at Columbia University.

She received a BA from Stanford University in International Relations with a focus on the Middle East. Her work focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli society.

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