Palestine-Israel Journal: How do you see the characteristics and
motivation of Israeli youth today as compared to former
Avi Levi: The main difference is that present-day youth lacks the
commitment to national goals that were broadly accepted before, and
I am referring not only to political but also to personal values. I
am not speaking here as a representative of any particular
movement, but from my own experience with Israeli youth. The
generalizations that I project here don't pretend to relate to all
sectors of Israeli youth, for example to the religious, the
ultra-Orthodox or the extreme right. But I think they do apply in
general to broad sections of urban middle-class youngsters. In the
past, these have been seen (along with kibbutz youth, which in
recent years has lost its old status) as those who set the tone, a
sort of prototype of Israeli youth.
More or less, since the Yom Kippur war of 1973, one sees a
decreasing commitment to the old values of Zionism, settlement,
developing the country, absorbing new immigrants, etc., which were
dominant in the formative first decades of Israeli history. On the
one hand, young people are frightened to declare that the classic
articles of faith no longer provide the main motivation in their
lives; on the other hand, they are increasingly subject to social
and economic influences, both local and international, which give
priority to the personal rather than the general good.
So they wouldn't say this openly?
No. It is hard for them to admit the change and they will say they
see the importance of their being Jews and Zionists, serving in the
army and so on. But they claim that they personally cannot now give
up individual economic opportunities, a promising career at home or
abroad, in the name of the Zionist ethos. There is an increasing
number of young people who consciously put their own career as
their first and only priority, and only pay lip service to old
ideals. At a younger age (high-school age), there is even a wider
readiness to talk openly of the new priorities. In the context of
this dichotomy, people are not prepared to give up national symbols
- the Israeli flag as representing them, or their (secular) Israeli
and Jewish loyalty. However, they are less and less prepared to see
overall national aims as committing them personally in their
behavior. This also applies to a readiness to serve in the
What about believing in overall humanistic values?
In principle, there is a broad section of yuppie youth in Tel Aviv
that votes for leftist parties and accepts progressive views, yet
if you ask them about unemployed Israeli workers in southern
development towns, they will say that these people "don't want to
work." In my view, this speaks volumes about their thinking.
And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
For most, it has become peripheral. It isn't at the center of their
agenda or their concerns. Ehud Barak represents them well: the idea
of "separation" from the Palestinians appeals to them. They watch
TV, but know little about the details of the peace process. In
principle they support peace and may even participate in an
occasional demonstration, but apart from a small nucleus of
activists, they don't want to get too close to the problem. As far
as many of them are concerned, Abu Dis or Hebron could be in a
foreign country. There is much ignorance even over the Golan
Heights, a topic which interests the whole world today.
What is behind this?
Mainly economic factors. For instance, the growth of commercial TV
and of the Internet, which provides access to neverending
information from all over the world - these foster a wholly
different scale of priorities compared to those common in former
decades. The emphasis is on consumerism, not idealism. The dominant
process is globalization, not "national" concerns - one can live in
Israel physically, but the way of life no longer has to be
specifically Israeli. Globalization is a political and economic
process, but it influences culture, taste, individual priorities
and aspirations, etc. In former periods, one won status by going to
a remote border kibbutz. Nobody thinks that way anymore: nowadays,
status pertains to economic success, a good career, material
As regards the Palestinians, from my contact with them in dialogue
groups, it is clear that their situation is completely opposite.
For them, the national factor is the decisive one. Whatever
happens, day and night they can't overlook the occupation and the
Israeli presence, even under the Palestinian Authority, with the
whole system of Israeli permits, etc. They breathe our presence,
whereas in order to know the Other, the Israeli must make a special
effort. What interests the Israelis is not so much the Palestinians
as the interest rate imposed by the Bank of Israel.
Who participates in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue
The composition on both sides is generally hierarchical -
Palestinians from Ramallah, Israelis from Jerusalem, both from the
same established socioeconomic level. Both are sensitive to
influences from abroad through TV, the Internet, and the media.
Dialogue is easier when both parties wear the same clothes and
shoes, listen to the same music, etc. So it's easier to conduct
dialogue with Palestinians from East Jerusalem or Ramallah than
from Gaza. For the underprivileged Palestinian, the talk is of
occupation, not dialogue. But for different reasons, neither is the
underprivileged Israeli particularly interested in dialogue. I
think that the determining factor here is the economic status and
not, as some think, differences between Ashkenazi (Western) and
Coming back to globalization, how does it influence
Similar lifestyles which transcend borders provide advantages. For
instance, one new and perhaps unexpected development is that it is
"in" for young Israelis to spend an evening in Ramallah, the "city
of lights," because of its restaurants, discothèques, etc.
Here Israelis and Palestinians, mainly from the younger generation,
are on the same wavelength. This is a hopeful development. In
general, the distances separating the two peoples are getting
smaller, but I wouldn't say that, historically, one can speak of a
new period: rather, we are in an interim period, between the old
and the new and, perhaps, the new generation of "post-Zionist"
Israeli youth has better chances of seeing peace than its