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Israeli Youth Are Out of Step With the West

Anat Kamm
Anat Kamm
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Ben-Gvir at Blich High School.
Ben-Gvir at Blich High School.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Anat Kamm
Anat Kamm

Last week the land (including the undersigned) quaked over the appearance of MK Itamar Ben-Gvir at Ramat Gan’s Blich High School. His appearance, which was preceded by students chanting “May your village burn down,” was followed by a warm reception from Scout troops belonging to a nearby den, and it shocked a few people who naïvely believed that the Scouts is a movement in which the strong protect the weak, regardless of race, religion or sex. (I recommend examining, in this context, how many millions of dollars the Boy Scouts of America will have to pay out in the future to Scouts who were victims of institutionalized sexual abuse that was covered up for decades.)

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The rightward movement of Israeli teens is an anomaly in the West, where young people are generally becoming more leftist or identifying with values that are seen as being affiliated with the left. Their gender awareness is greater than ever before, both in terms of their identity and their social sensitivity to the people around them. Their sexual awareness is greater than ever before (some would say overly so, but that is a different discussion). Their racial awareness is greater than ever, and they work on behalf of the environment and the animals with infinite sensitivity, to the point of paying an emotional price: See under “climate anxiety,” which has occupied some of the best minds in the field of mental health for some time.

These teenagers are influenced no less by Instagram and TikTok heroes, but their heroes – from Kim Kardashian (who fights for ill-fated female prisoners and against the death penalty) and Harry Styles (who wears dresses and nail polish) to Olivia Rodrigo (who dedicated a cover of Lily Allen’s song “Fuck You” that she performed in concert to the five U.S. Supreme Court justices who had voted the previous day to overturn Roe vs. Wade, thus stripping away constitutional protections for abortion) – bring them forward, not backward.

And in Israel? This week’s culture hero is Moran Ben Asulin, whose vulgar conduct at her own wedding, at which singer Omer Adam performed, made her a symbol of power and female liberation. In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, she said – look surprised! – “I’m the mostest Bibi-ist.” But when the celebrity chef Eyal Shani, a central figure in Israeli reality TV, uses the same colloquial word for “most,” “hakhi,” he goes back to being a bit of a weirdo, a person who talks with tomatoes and charges way too much for a sandwich served in half a pita in central Tel Aviv; in other words, not someone who really has to be taken seriously.

Moran Ben AsulinCredit: Instagram

That’s the general. But what about the specific? The specific is that between teenagers in Israel – a country whose entire population is smaller than that of New York City – there are unimaginable differences in opinions and ideas. In the past these could be explained by the geographic and socioeconomic circumstances of their parents. That is to say, the children of educated parents from Tel Aviv and its environs will be open-minded, not racist and not conservative, while the children of the periphery will tend toward, well, everything that’s associated with the periphery. But that explanation doesn’t really hold anymore, both because there’s more money than there used to be in the periphery, and because in the center, as we saw just last week, even children from “good families” are Ben-Gvir groupies.

The differences are even more unimaginable when you understand that the overwhelming majority of children in Israel are in the highly centralized and uniform public school system. Because of this, it’s hard not to see in these conceptual differences, and in the fact that there are thousands of teenagers for whom Ben-Gvir, Ben Asulin and Ben Nitay (as Benjamin Netanyahu was known during his years in the United States) are role models, a complete failure of the education system. But hey, the important thing is that we increased the number of graduates from Druze high schools who are eligible for the bagrut matriculation certificate.

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