American teens aren’t suckers. While still too young to vote, they can already be credited with the iconic photograph dubbed Donald Trump’s “walk of shame,” in which the U.S. president is seen defeated and exhausted as he alights from the helicopter after the failed rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma June 19. His tie is undone, he is holding a crumples “Make America Great Again” cap and beads of sweat can be seen through his white dress shirt.
Trump’s failure is the result of sophisticated trolling by tens of thousands of teens. Those same teens, whom The New York Times called “digital warriors,” redeployed tactics they ordinarily use to share information on K-pop stars and music for political activism. The fake-tickets prank was only their most recent political act; earlier they used their huge and coordinated community on TikTok, Twitter and Facebook to troll Trump’s birthday greetings, to fill with digital junk a Dallas police app designed to gather intelligence about protesters and to appropriate the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag to make things difficult for white supremacists.
They made sure their favorite K-pop bands contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Black Lives Matter, while demonstrating a great sense of humor (another characteristic of Gen Z, which grew up on sophisticated internet memes and jokes).
These wonderful young people, who in a few years from now will turn out en masse to vote, are arousing genuine hope among U.S. liberals, because according to all the surveys they are much more liberal, sober and educated than previous generations.
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll of people aged 13-21, a large majority of Gen Z (and to a lesser extent the millennials who preceded them), express dissatisfaction with Trump and the administration’s behavior in regard to social justice and the climate crisis, and increasing openness to minorities and LGBTQ people – by a wide gap compared to Gen X and Boomers, even among teens who identify as Republicans. In Western Europe there are reports of similar numbers among the youth.
But in Israel, polls indicate that young people are breaking right and becoming closer to religion. According to a survey conducted by Dahlia Scheindlin for the Zulat think tank in May, the younger the respondents, the more right-wing they are. In the 18-24 age group, 62 percent identified as right-wing.
Nearly identical figures resulted from a comprehensive 2017 study by the Macro Center for Political Economics and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Of the Israeli teens and young adults it surveyed, 67 percent said they were right-wing, while 82 percent of young adults said maintaining security was more important than maintaining democracy.
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One reason, explains Scheindlin, is a rise in the number of teens and young adults who identify as religious, ultra-Orthodox or traditional Jews. While in 2004 over half described themselves as secular, in 2017 only 40 percent did so. She says that in Israel the level of religiosity is strongly related to right-wing ideology, and does not stem only from the birthrate in ultra-Orthodox and religious society, but also from the social and nationalist atmosphere created in Israel in recent years.
It’s not hard to find the reasons for the rightward trend among young people: the scaremongering and incitement against “the Arabs,” which have become the daily bread of the politicians; the diplomatic freeze; the strengthening of religion in the school system (with an emphasis on Masa Israel trips for high school students, sponsored by the Education Ministry and funded by the NGO of Rabbi Moti Elon); the total erasure of the Israeli left; the absence of worthy left-wing leaders to serve as unapologetic role models, and the moral corruption of the media and celebrities, who as opposed to their counterparts in the United States, don’t dare to open their mouths when it comes to social and political issues.
Therefore, in less than three decades, the hopes, the naivete and the idealism of the Candle Generation (teenagers who lit candles to mourn the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995) have been replaced by the ultranationalism, religious belief and racism of the hilltop youth.