Social Affairs: Israeli youth gone wild?

Was last week’s alleged gang rape by Israeli teens at a Cyprus party getaway an aberration or an indication that society is in trouble?

July 25, 2019 23:11
Social Affairs: Israeli youth gone wild?

AN ADVERTISEMENT for a pool party in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. . (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Israeli teens fresh out of high school flying across the Mediterranean to embark on a week of nonstop partying is practically a rite of passage before committing the next few years of their lives to the IDF.

Free from the grasp of parents, schoolteachers or authority, these recent high school graduates – some reportedly not even of legal age – take advantage of this newfound freedom to unwind and soak up the sun in resorts everywhere from Palma de Mallorca in Spain to Burgas in Bulgaria.

This cultural trend in Israeli society has never been questioned before. After all, we will soon be handing these kids machine guns and expecting them to keep us safe. Why shouldn’t we trust them?

However, after last week’s news of the alleged gang rape of a 19-year-old British female in the Ayia Napa party town in Cyprus by 12 Israeli teens, some would say otherwise.

Whether the charges hold up or prove to be unfounded, the case shook Israel. It forced us to ask, “How could our kids do something like that?” – the kids we nurtured, fed Bamba, sat through endless school meetings and performances for; the kids who are soon going to be risking their lives for our country’s citizens as they sleep peacefully.

What really happened that night in Ayia Napa still isn’t clear, but even the best-case scenario – that a number of the Israeli teens had sex with a woman with her consent and filmed it – indicates that some basic aspect of Israeli societal norms has veered off track.

Is it a matter of an overdose of alcohol, testosterone and unfettered freedom? Or is it indicative of something rotten and festering inside Israel that is manifesting itself in incidents like Ayia Napa, which would have been unthinkable a couple decades ago.

After all, this trip is a way to let off steam before lifelong friend groups part ways for at least two years to serve in the IDF, but at what cost?

Mark Feldman, a longtime travel expert and CEO of Zion Tours travel agency, said the cost is too high.

“This is not ‘boys will be boys,’” Feldman said. “It’s become far too commonplace. There’s no excuse on what happened.”

Feldman emphasized the lack of responsibility some parents take when their kids are planning group excursions to party sites. Most aren’t aware of which all-inclusive package their kids are choosing, or who is organizing it, and certainly not what their kids are up to there.

“Parents need to step up and take some responsibility,” Feldman said. “Sadly, I don’t see that happening.”

Since the Ayia Napa explosion, Feldman said, no parent has booked a trip for their teens to Cyprus or Greece, because “no one knows what program is good anymore.”

JERUSALEM PARENT Tal Newman said that his kids had been abroad before, but their pre-army excursion was their first time traveling without any sort of supervision.

“As a parent you always worry, whether they’re 18 or 38,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “But you have to trust their judgment.... These kids are 18 – they should be able to handle responsibility and act like adults. We are about to send them to the military, so they should be able to handle a week without parents.”

The point of students traveling after high school is for them to unwind and enjoy themselves, Newman said, since this is the last time these kids will have a chance to do this for a while.
Alon Cohen, an 18-year-old from the center of the country, was with a group of 20 friends in Spain’s Palma de Mallorca when news of the Ayia Napa case emerged.

He admitted that lack of parenting or authority makes it easy for Israeli teens to lose a bit of themselves on these trips.

“It’s very freeing... you’re almost a different person,” Cohen said. “One discussion my friends and I had over breakfast was that our attitude changed. Israelis tend to think they can treat people differently when they go abroad.”

Cohen recalled his friend group acting differently because they were on vacation in a different place. He pointed out that he and his friends wouldn’t even go so far as to say “please” and “thank you” to waiters at restaurants.

“We think to ourselves: I’m in a different place, I will never see these people again, so why should I care how I treat anybody?” Cohen said.

That attitude was backed up by Tel Aviv resident Ari Pollock, who also ventured on a pre-army party trip 10 years ago.

Pollock said that Israelis tend to see themselves as superior to, or smarter than, Europeans and tourists.

“Israelis are carefully taught to take pride in their roots in such a smart Start-Up Nation, which can cause them to not care what others think when they go abroad,” Pollock said.

Tomer Levy, a 28-year-old Tel Aviv resident, recalled witnessing the same cavalier sort of behavior on his pre-army group trip to Ayia Napa 10 years ago.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Levy said on the news of the gang rape. “I saw people partying like crazy and not caring about anything. Kids were trashing hotel rooms and stuff. They feel like they deserve a big break before joining the army.”

But the most troubling aspect of some Israelis’ behavior, reflected in the Cyprus case, is their attitudes toward women. Levy said that when he went on his trip to an Ayia Napa resort, a representative from the travel company he and his friends booked with came to the hotel to talk to all the Israelis. Safety precautions, including sexual assault prevention, were not discussed. Rather, the focus of the conversation was the importance of having a good time, according to Levy.

He also told the Post he thinks the same “boys will be boys” mentality, which has served as the excuse for erratic behavior by men in Western societies for ages, is also prevalent here in Israel.

“The problem is education. They [the boys] don’t understand [that] what they did was wrong,” he said. “Men don’t get educated by society, by their moms or dads, on how to behave around women,” Levy said.

DR. YARON SCHWARTZ, who specializes in gender education at the Hartman Institute’s Charles E. Smith Experimental Religious High School for Boys in Jerusalem, has similar theories on the way kids in Israel are gendered.

“I think in Israel boys will do everything to be masculine,” Schwartz said. “You give up all of your morals for it.”

Schwartz works at a school that incorporates lessons on masculinity, gender education and sexual education into its classes. He emphasized that these types of situations manifest themselves in what society teaches.

“We see men in Israeli culture and how they behave,” Schwartz said. “It’s people of high rank in business, in politics, who are just doing whatever they want with women, and most of them don’t get punished.”

Schwartz suggested the outside world is a school for kids, and we need to improve their learning environment. While this situation and the circumstances are centric to Israeli society specifically, according to Schwartz, this is a problem all across the world.

“If we wish to change the way Israel adolescents grow up, we need to give them a new kind of model for positive sexual behaviors,” Schwartz said.

One may argue that the alleged assault in Cyprus was just a matter of an overdose of alcohol, testosterone and unfettered freedom, but Schwartz claimed many boys become drunk not with alcohol but with the hope that they can tell their friends of their conquests.

“It is so sad that they become drunk off of masculinity,” Schwartz said. “The kids in Cyprus didn’t get the right education.”

Schwartz believes, in spite of the tragedy in Cyprus, that Israel is moving forward, that there are major shifts happening in our society.

“You can see how the response in Israel has changed,” Schwartz said. “If you read how people react on social media, they are angry about what happened and want the kids to be punished.”

According to Schwartz, no one would have ever revealed these events even 10 years ago.

“This woman changed the world in Israel by speaking up and reporting what happened,” Schwartz said.

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