Coming Of Age: ‘Generation Z’ To Impact Israeli Political Arena
Political parties court the youth vote ahead of municipal and general elections
Topaz is a member of ‘Generation Z,’ a cohort born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. Like many other Israeli youth, she is anxious to cast her first-ever ballot when nationwide municipal elections are held in October.
“I want to vote for someone who will open businesses on Shabbat [the Jewish day of rest] and bring stability for Arabs in the West Bank,” she told The Media Line.
While Topaz will be starting her service in the Israel Defense Forces later this year, Aviel Dinabole, a 21-year-old shop manager, was recently discharged from the military.
Unlike Topaz, he identifies more closely with the political right and will again vote for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the next general elections, currently slated for November of next year.
“I like how Israel’s strong position towards the Palestinian territories and the recent Nation-State Law [which granted quasi-constitutional status to Israel’s Jewish character] is presented to countries,” he conveyed to The Media Line.
Various polls in Israel suggest there has been a shift among young voters towards the political right, a significant development given that 20 percent of Israelis are between the ages of 15 and 25.
A study titled Where is Generation Z Going, conducted by the Macro Center for Political Economics, found that security is among the primary factors that influence young voters. In this respect, Israel’s right-wing parties have gone to great lengths to paint themselves as “guardians” of the country, which they juxtapose against years of Palestinian terrorism perceived by many as a by-product of the left-wing’s formulation of the Oslo Accords.
“While only 35% of Israelis from the ages of 15-25 said they would vote [for parties on the] right in 1998, this number grew to 40% in 2010 and 67% in 2016,” explained Roby Nathanson, Director of the Macro Center for Political Economics and lead researcher of the study.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Prime Minister Netanyahu has won three straight national elections and four overall (he is set to become Israel’s longest-ever serving leader next May). Dubbed “Mr. Security” by his supporters, the premier plans to run for a fifth term and, if the past is any indication, will highlight during the campaign his tough-nosed approach to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and zero-tolerance policies vis-a-vis Iran’s potential nuclearization.
Tsophia Nahon has for four years been a member of Likud Youth—the youth branch of Netanyahu’s ruling party—during which time she has promoted the government’s positions among her peers.
“There is an increasing number of young people who vote for the Likud, as one-third of the party’s 120,000 members are made up of the youth,” Nahon related to The Media Line.
But the recent trend may be upended in the upcoming elections, according to a Taub Center study in which 74% of respondents identified the high cost of living in Israel—not security—as the most pressing national issue.
Nathanson of the Macro Center for Political Economics therefore believes that left-wing candidates stand a good chance of being elected. “It’s likely that people are more concerned about their careers, wages and families nowadays compared to the 2000s when they concentrated more on security and social activism,” he asserted.
Eyal Lurie-Pardes is running for a seat on Jerusalem’s City Council this October as a member of Young Meretz, the youth body of the left-wing, social-democratic Meretz Party. Accordingly, his campaign will highlight economic inequality.
“The youth is going to focus on the housing crisis, where years of not adjusting city planning [in response] to changing demographics has made it almost impossible for young people to own a home,” he stressed to The Media Line.
Lurie-Pardes noted that an individual living in Tel Aviv—which was recently named by the Economist as the world’s ninth most-expensive city—needs the equivalent of 50 average salaries to purchase an apartment, as housing prices have increased by 200-300% over the past decade.
Nadav, a medical student from Hebrew University, echoed this sentiment. “Wealth is saturated in this country…it is no longer enough to work hard as costs are too high,” he told The Media Line. Nadav will thus vote either for a candidate from Meretz or the Labor Party, the latter of which also maintains a social-democratic agenda and opposes rising state-funding of ultra-Orthodox religious schools and construction projects in Jewish communities located in the West Bank.
For his part, Suf, a law student at Hebrew University, plans to vote for a left-leaning party because he believes it would be more committed to upholding equal rights in Israel.
“The opportunities for Palestinians in the country are close to zero compared to the opportunities that Jews like myself have,” he elaborated to The Media Line.
Since Israel’s founding in 1948, the public’s overall political orientation has continuously evolved, a process influenced by persistent war, the mass absorption of immigrants and the development of a thriving economy. There is also the growing ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community, which could play a major role in charting the country’s political future.
The number of Haredim in Israel recently crossed the 1 million threshold, and with ultra-Orthodox families having on average 6.9 kids the population is expected to skyrocket. The Taub Center projected Haredim will make up as much as half of Israel’s population by 2059, but later lowered its estimate to 35%. Given the number of children the ultra-Orthodox are having, the Haredi education system showed the fastest rate of increase in students between 2001 and 2015.
Moreover, Haredim have high voter participation rates. In Jerusalem’s 2013 municipal elections, 62% of those identifying as ultra-Orthodox cast a ballot, compared to 50% for the rest of the public. Naturally, Haredim show a preference for religious-conservative parties over secular ones.
“But 15% of young Haredim transfer from their religious institutions by the time of high school,” Eitan Regev, a Senior Researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, conveyed to The Media Line. “The youth from this population is converting out or leaving the city in unprecedented numbers, so even the high birth rate of this sector might not eventually be an advantage to Haredi candidates.”
Regev suggests that while Haredi youth comprise about 30% of Jerusalem’s total population, the dynamic changes occurring within the community might limit its political impact.
“My assumption is that there is a greater likelihood for youth who abandon this sector for a liberal lifestyle to hold a grudge against their old lifestyle and support left-wing concepts.”
An imperative for all Israeli political parties will be to get youth to the ballot boxes, as just 41% of citizens under 25-years-old voted in Jerusalem’s 2013 municipal election.
“The Likud Youth has opened up groups inside 99% of university campuses, and we are volunteering to raise a presence through social media and events, as well as arranging meetings between the youth and parliament members,” Tsophia Nahon told The Media Line.
“We are really satisfied with the status quo in the Likud Youth,” she continued, “as education levels are good and people can [afford to] pay for things. There is poverty, but I think we are also one of the biggest countries for non-profits.”
As for Meretz’s Lurie-Pardes, he tried to reach out to as many youth as possible in Jerusalem even before launching his campaign. As a gay rights activist, one of his main goals is to advance LGBT causes, and, more generally, to upend the status quo.
“I grew up in Jerusalem, and I want to enjoy the complexity and freedom of diversity that has been lost,” he concluded.
(David Lee is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)
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