For the Bibi-boomer Generation, It's Hard to Imagine Life Without Netanyahu

They're politically aware and have independent opinions, but all grew up under one prime minister. Haaretz speaks with members from Israel's youngest electorate to understand how this collective memory shapes their voting patterns

From left to right: Shachar Beck, Aviv Yashar, Bian Nadaf, Michael Rosenblat, Riki Yakobovich, Lorina Khatib, Maya Livne, Nadav Pfeffer, Aharon Norani, and Yagel Barnea.
Tomer Applebaum

The youngsters who came to Haaretz’s editorial office last week were from the political left and right, religious and secular, Jews, Arabs and Druze. Some sounded like jaded political activists, reciting the talking points of the parties they support. Others were still forming an opinion. But they all had one thing in common: In their collective memory there’s only one prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

These youths were in elementary school when Netanyahu began his current term in office. As far as they’re concerned, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert are part of history.

“If a prime minister remains in power for so many years, there must be a good reason,” says Riki Yakobovich, secular Likud voter who grew up in an ultra-Orthodox home.

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“It’s hard for me to imagine a government without Bibi,” says Yagel Barnea of the West Bank settlement of Neve Daniel.

“We don’t really know another prime minister. I don’t know what will be on the day after him, but clearly it wouldn’t be the same thing. Bibi is there for many years, he knows what to do. Whoever replaces him, whether right or left, isn’t accustomed and doesn’t know. The system is used to one man now. I don’t know if it’s for better or worse, because it depends what side he’ll come from,” he says.

They are all familiar with political issues, talk about the natural gas plan and free economy, Netanyahu’s corruption cases and Channel 12. Sometimes they interrupt each other and must be called to order. Were it not for the pressure of time and the restrictions of public transportation they would have gone on arguing into the night.

Michael Rosenblat, a student who supports Likud, says “it’s a reality we don’t know. But ultimately, even the most gifted politician’s tenure is limited. Certainly Netanyahu’s leaving at some point is inevitable. When the time comes for Bibi to leave political life, I want to believe we’ll know how to go on.” “People didn’t believe it was possible to live without Ben Gurion, and society managed. I don’t think it will be a disaster if another prime minister is elected, I don’t want to be pessimistic, Gantz is an ardent Zionist, like the rest of his party members, but they don’t have enough experience and ideological clarity. Personally I think Gantz will form a unity government with Netanyahu because he knows he’s not ready to be prime minister,” Rosenbal adds.

Even Lorina Khatib, a Druze who doesn’t agree with anything Netanyahu stands for, says “you can’t ignore his charisma.”

Nadav Pfeffer, who voted for Labor, says: “He’s not the only one. There were prime ministers before him, perhaps less charismatic, but they did a good job. Managing a state is a group thing and the question is whether the leader surrounds himself with the right advisors and ministers. Bibi surrounds himself mainly with family members, he keeps firing his advisors. He conducts himself like the kings of yore, who pushed away anyone who threatened their reign. Bibi deteriorated the state and created a situation in which we can’t imagine anyone instead of him. Of course whoever’s in power can show his voters a lot of achievements – Bibi created the best environment to get himself reelected again and again.”

Moshe, an ultra-Orthodox man from Ashdod who wants to be identified only by his first name, says: “Even if Bibi goes the systems will continue functioning as it did before him. The right-wing orientation will continue to be dominant, only the persona will be different, will arouse less emotion. People got used to loving or hating Netanyahu. I once read that you can get used to anyone as prime minister, if you give him five security guards and a limousine.”

Is such a long term a good thing? Shachar Beck of Modi’in believes “many years in power are corrupting.” Maya Livne, a Hadash-Ta’al voter from Jerusalem, says “the problem isn’t Netanyahu but the system, which enables the very wealthy to navigate the ship at the public’s expense.”

Aharon Norani, a yeshiva student from Bnei Brak, says: “I want to say something about the corruption allegations. The investigations aren’t over yet. Look at Miriam Feirberg, Netananya’s mayor – they wrote in the papers that she stole, spoke of cronies, capital and power. In the end the case was closed. As long as there’s no conclusion, I think it’s a waste of time dealing with the question of whether Bibi is corrupt. Let the court decide.”

However, Bian Nadaf is concerned over the indifference in the Arab society and believes Netanyahu contributes to that. “Bibi doesn’t serve the Arab society and that’s very sad. People are in despair and don’t want to vote. Netanyahu is aware of that. He knows that if the Arabs come out to vote, it will topple the right wing government.”

For the Netanyahu generation, the April election was their first time to cast their ballot. For some it was a festive occasion. Shachar from Modi’in, who voted with her twin brother, says her family had doubled its votes. Nadaf was excited because “it was the first time I felt I could make a difference.”

“How will you make a difference if you’re in the opposition?” asks Aharon. He himself voted for Shas, feeling that “we’re fighting for our home.”

Aviv Yashar, of Bat Yam, who supported Avi Dabush in Meretz’ primary, was disappointed in April’s election. “The left wing parties gave up the possibility of important mergers, it was not exciting and even depressing,” he says.

Nadav, a left-wing voter and hesder yeshiva student, who combines religious studies with military service, says he voted “because we must.” However Lorina is frustrated that no party represents her as a Druze woman. “On the other hand, I can’t just sit on the sidelines and not vote,” she says.

Yagel thought Hayamin Hehadash would bring a new message, and was sorely disappointed when it failed to pass the electoral threshold in April.

Moshe, the oldest of the group, voted four years ago for the first time, but then, he says “I voted for United Torah Judaism out of awareness that that’s what everyone does. That’s changed since then.” In April he voted for Zehut.

“Ultimately everyone has one interest – welfare and peace,” Maya says.

Michael, the Likudnik, says: “My peace isn’t your peace.”

They say your generation doesn’t care about anything, you’re stuck in Instagram all day. Do you feel different for wanting to make a change?

Riki believes is true that not many in her age group involves themselves in politics. “I’m in the army, where there are all kinds of people. I think most of the boys and girls in my battalion don’t really think about politics. Once people were more ideological and today not so much,” she says.

“How do you know what it was like in your parents’ time?” Aharon asks. “I for one think there are youngsters like me in all the parties.”

But Bian believes voting patterns are changing. “Where I come from people no longer vote like their parents did, but form their own opinion. My father votes for someone, my mother votes, and I have different opinions. The youth is even more aware of the situation than the parents and have their own worldview,” Bian explains.

“I think there is political awareness in the Haredi community,” says Moshe. “But they don’t agonize who to vote for, because there’s no hesitation. The awareness is collective – what to wear, where to pray, who to vote for.”

Maya thinks the youth may be less politically active than in the past, “but that’s a positive sign. It shows the parties have less control. Not everyone has to be Mapainiks or ‘salt of the earth’ in the kibbutz movements. People develop their own opinion and that’s a good thing.”

“Politics let us down,” Nadav says. “Teenagers focus on things that are important to them, they don’t need the noise of demonstrations and parties. We do our things by ourselves, volunteering and social activism.”

“Lots of teenagers are socially involved,” says Shachar. “But they aren’t politically involved. The head of the student council in my school voted like her father. The youngsters belong to youth movements, they volunteer a lot, but they’re not interested in politics. People my age say: ‘I don’t believe anything.’ They voted for Zehut because of dope legalization, they aren’t interested in any other issue.”

“When I was in high school there really wasn’t that much political discussion,” Michael says. “But when I got to university, I was exposed to an amazing world of crazy political spectrum. True, political activity on campuses dropped in recent years. But the moment an issue that people care about comes up they wake up and the campus is on fire. For example when there were issues of sexual harassment – students of all political views united and demanded to deal with it. The problem is that the politicians don’t know what bothers our generation.”