Hope is not a strategy

While in most countries the younger population represents a more left-wing and socially open constituency, in Israel the trend is actually the opposite.

People carry Israeli flags during a Jerusalem Day march in the capital. (photo credit: REUTERS)
People carry Israeli flags during a Jerusalem Day march in the capital.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When asked about the future of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the White House press pool, former US president Bill Clinton, who had just returned from the funeral of Shimon Peres, stated that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal will happen at some point because the young people in the region will demand it.
The assessment made by Clinton has been made by countless others in the past and is a mainstream position among policy makers – young Israelis will be our saviors. However, if one looks at the data, statistics and polling of young people in Israel, it is quite clear that the next generation in Israel has a different view than many policy wonks.
A Smith poll published by The Jerusalem Post on July 17, 2016, found among the 18-29 demographic only 35 percent supported the principle of “two states for two nations” as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared to 53% against it. The youngest voters were the least supportive of the two-state solution. The poll results countered Clinton’s argument and found that the older the voter the more likely they would support of a two-state solution.
A Smith poll published by the Post on August 31, 2016, found a majority (54%) among the 18-29 demographic considered haredi (ultra-Orthodox) control over religion and state issues acceptable compared to a minority (43%) among the 50-plus demographic.
The latest Pew poll conducted in Israel, arguably the most comprehensive polling ever conducted in Israel, found the younger age bracket (in this case 18-49) was more religiously observant and less supportive of two states than their elders.
The younger demographic is more inclined to be supportive of settlements, believe that Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, believe that security is Israel’s biggest threat, believe that Israel was given to the Jews by God, favor gender segregation on public transportation, favor Halacha as a basis of law in Israel and view the US as not supportive enough of Israel.
The policy positions of young Israelis trickle down to party affiliation and prime minister preference.
A Midgam poll broadcast by Army Radio in 2015 found 18-29 year olds were the most likely to choose Netanyahu as prime minister (57%) and least likely to choose Herzog (19%). Midgam found the older the voter the more likely was support of Herzog over Netanyahu.
A Teleseker poll published by Walla in 2013 found 67.6% of Bayit Yehudi voters were between the ages of 18-49, compared to 32.4% over the age of 50.
There is a clear trend that the younger generation is more religious and more right-wing than previous generations. While in most countries the younger population represents a more left-wing and socially open constituency, in Israel the trend is actually the opposite.
It is our belief that this is due to at least two factors.
The changing demographics in Israel mean that the next generation is more religious. The official Israeli Social Survey of the Central Bureau of Statistics found the 18-29 demographic is more religious than the older demographics. The Haredi share of the 18-29 population is 12%. The national religious share is 13%, and the traditional share is 31%.
Although secular Israelis make up a majority of the 50-plus demographic (52%), they make up 44% of the 18-29 demographic. This trend is set to continue in the coming years as 28% of haredim aged 40 or older have seven or more children compared to less than 1% of secular Israelis.
These long-term demographic changes adjust the make-up of the younger generation and, given the separation within the Israeli education system, carries forward their communities’ belief systems in separate tracks.
While the demographics can help explain the religiosity of the younger cohort, their support for the Right is not mere biological determinism.
This is a generation that came of age during the Second Intifada and its aftermath. The hope and promise of the 1990s means little to nothing to young Israelis. The political horizon of young Israelis has been one of stunted visions and conflict management.
Given that reality, young Israelis’ skepticism regarding everything other than what they have experienced is understandable.
The purpose of this snapshot is to ground in reality the current situation of young people in Israel today. To believe young Israelis will demand a future that is different from their current experience, with all things being equal, does not bear out in the data. As time goes on the demographic realities of young Israelis manifest in overall poll numbers, such as a Panels poll in May that found 53% of Israelis in favor of applying Israeli law to at least some settlements in Judea and Samaria/West Bank.
Israeli youth differ from the progressive left-wing wave of change that we see elsewhere in the world.
The majority of young Israelis resemble and identify more with the governing right-wing religious coalition of Israel, not the left-wing secular opposition.
The hope of a rising youth that will demand the change president Clinton hopes to see coming from Israel is against all trends in the data. Rather than trusting gut feelings and being disappointed when the results don’t pan out, a realistic assessment of the current state of play should drive policy making and strategic considerations. Only with an eyes-open approach can those who wish for a change in the status quo begin to build a strategy to achieve it.
Joel Braunold is the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace. Jeremy Saltan is a municipal politician, Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum chairman and one of Israel’s leading poll analysts.
All views presented are those of the individual authors.