Disenfranchised youth endangering Israel from within

Riots in Lod, May 2021  credit: Gregory Baldwin, Reuters

The recent violence in Israel's mixed cities is a call to action on alienation, neglect, and crime among Arab youngsters.

Israeli society has undergone a disastrous superstorm, one that makes the conflict with Hamas appear the lesser threat to the State of Israel.

The recent demonstrations and riots raise existential questions about the future sustainability of Israel as a diverse society, composed of various identities and communities. It often feels as if we haven't yet internalized the simple truth: all of the groups that comprise Israeli society are here to stay.

In the past few weeks, thousands of words have been said and written in an attempt to understand what is happening here, and primarily to understand how we move forward. Some express despair; others take advantage of the complexity to inflame hate and division; and there are those who try to be enlightening, and propose links and dialogue.

I want to present a slightly different perspective. A position that looks the violent rioting groups in the eyes and tries to recognize and characterize them. Wonder of wonders, the characterization is clear: the vast majority of the frightening and violent groups on the streets of Israel are young men, some just adolescents.

As someone who has been working for many years to reduce disparities in Israeli society, and who works with youngsters in leadership programs for social mobility and societal impact, I observe the youngsters on the streets who hate, burn and destroy, who beat people and are even willing to murder, for a belief that isn't really clear even to them. I observe them and know them: these are the youngsters whom Israeli society has given up on.

40% of Arab young people are defined as "idle and unproductive"

Israel has hundreds of adolescents and young adults defined as unproductive, young people who are not in the work force, in school, or in any other social framework for personal growth. Amongst Israel's Arabs, the situation is even worse: the horrifying statistic is that 40% of 18-year-olds are defined as unproductive.

Without a system that supports and works with them, these youngsters turn to organizations that do absorb them ? extremist, criminal, and violent street gangs. This reality bubbles up all the time, but it's more comfortable for Israeli society to ignore it. It's easy for us to blame racist and religious motivations, and to disregard the simple truth: we are all ? the State and society ? to blame for this terrible reality.

Years of neglect have enabled criminal organizations to thrive and flourish; we abandoned youngsters whom the educational system didn't know how to include. And now, the flames spread, destroying whatever good there is, posing a real threat to the continuation of Israeli society as a democratic and diverse one. If we don't wake up and learn the roots of the problem, we'll continue to deteriorate.

We don't have the privilege of giving up. We must buckle down to change the world order in all aspects of the lives of youngsters in Israeli society. We must provide solutions to whoever needs them, raise and nurture young people to fulfill their dreams, develop young leaders who are connected to their identities and roots on one hand, yet who understand that we have mutual responsibility for building a better society on the other. Create more and more frameworks and mechanisms whereby young people from the different communities that comprise Israeli society can to get to know each other, hold real discussions between themselves, and build trust, cooperation and partnerships.

Hope is optimism backed up by a work plan. And now is the time to roll up our sleeves and embark on this new Israeli journey.

Anat Nehemia Lavie is the CEO of the Edmond de Rothschild Partnerships, an organization dedicated to the development of young and diverse leadership in Israel's geographic and social periphery.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 15, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Riots in Lod, May 2021  credit: Gregory Baldwin, Reuters
Riots in Lod, May 2021 credit: Gregory Baldwin, Reuters
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