Some 35 percent of Jewish youths who identify themselves as secular Israelis say they don't want to live in Israel. With Orthodox youths, the figure is 14 percent; among young people identified as "traditional," the figure is 12 percent; and just 9 percent of young ultra-Orthodox say they will emigrate.
These findings were compiled in a recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute. They are sobering statistics, especially when considered together with the fact that the birth rate among Jews is steadily and sharply falling and any decrease in the birth rate among Arabs in Israel is negligible. Six months ago, the Central Bureau of Statistics disclosed that the average number of people in an Arab family in Israel is 5.4; in Jewish families, the figure is 3.6. And if more than a third of native-born, secular Jews in the country do not believe they have a future here (among new immigrant Jewish youths, the figure is 49 percent), it's not difficult to imagine what the future holds for the Jewish state.
But the revulsion many young people display toward their country and homeland is not what causes the survey team, headed by Prof. Asher Arian, to lose sleep. "The warning light," as writers of the Democracy Institute report put it, applies to two findings that attest to attenuated commitments to democracy. One is the yearning for a strong leader (some 60 percent of youths long for such a leader); the other is the widespread support - 43 percent - for refusal to serve in the IDF, with respect both to evacuating settlers and to serving in the territories. These two findings indeed attest to flaws in young people's perceptions of democracy, and yet the brunt of the threat of refusal to serve in the IDF is posed not to democracy but rather to social solidarity, to the stability of the army and to the morale of soldiers and parents.
Terror organizations can draw inspiration from calls to refuse to wage war against them, despite the lethal attacks they perpetrate. In contrast, the clear trend of alienation from the state - which involves abandonment of the Zionist idea and of recognition of the necessity of the existence of the Jewish state - is liable to become an existential danger, should it not be stopped in its tracks. For if a large number of young people, and their descendants, choose not to live here, it is clear that a Jewish state, be it an ideal democracy or not, will not survive in the long term. Nor will the Israel Democracy Institute.
It would be wrong to allow the institute's findings, which are incorporated in a comprehensive study of Israeli youth, to be forgotten like other poll findings, which stimulate public debate for a day or two before vanishing. If parents, educators and the Education Ministry harbor even a minimal willingness to confront the survey's findings, it would be possible to identify the "at-risk groups," and deal with them. And if these educators and parents have sufficient energy, and if they are given the appropriate means and cultural resources, they can have an impact in confronting the ignorance and lack of a commitment to national solidarity displayed by the country's young people.
Parents and educators would be wise not to deny the findings by relying on the escapist claims that they are a result of ephemeral youth rebelliousness, or that the respondents merely wanted to catch the pollsters' attention, and so gave exaggerated responses. This form of denial is dangerous and should be avoided - unless parents, deep in their hearts, condone or identify with the trends of alienation and escapism that prevail among these teenagers.
Similar trends were identified more than a generation ago among kibbutz youths. At the time, parents, educators and ideological leaders tried to blur the facts, and to console themselves by claiming that the trends applied only to a "minority." They fooled themselves into being comforted by the fact that "only" a fifth, and then later a quarter (such were the poll findings) of young people were disenchanted with the kibbutz way of life.
When what hangs in the balance is an entire enterprise - a social and economic movement (such as the kibbutz movement) that influences the ethos of the state and its society - such a "minority" can have a decisive impact. Indeed, what started as idle prattle about leaving the kibbutzim turned into a mass exodus. When fractures start, things only continue to break. Large percentages of people who were born in kibbutz communities wound up wandering to far-off countries, and settling in them.
In light of current figures about disaffected youths, does what happened to the kibbutz movement convey a portent of what is liable to occur to the state as a whole? At first glance, there does not appear to be an analogy. For there are a number of population sectors whose young people evince a high degree of loyalty to the state. Still, teachers and parents in these sectors would be wrong to let their educational accomplishments coax them into complacency.
Early signs of fracture can be felt in these sectors as well. For instance, 14 percent of religious youths express a desire to leave the country. And, at any event, secular Israelis are a majority, and trends in their sector will, for better or worse, be what determines Israel's future. We are all in the same boat, and if each person heads in his or her own direction, the boat will capsize.
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