'Worry about my grandchildren'
Photo: Gil Yohanan
When Israelis say, “I worry about my grandchildren’s future,” this has a radically different dimension than similar concerns expressed in many other countries. Europeans’ current anxiety about the future derives mainly from darkening social and economic prospects. Some Europeans are also apprehensive about climate change. For Israelis, physical survival is a prime matter, often over and above their many other concerns.
Israeli society faces mortal risks from parts of the Muslim world, where extreme anti-Semitic hate mongering is massive. Israel is threatened with a second Holocaust, for which the ideological basis is being laid today. The Islamic world has substantial components such as Iran’s leaders and Hamas, which promote the genocide of Israel and Jews. In the future, when in chaotic situations atom bombs or fissile material may reach terrorists, significant threats may also come from others.
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Current Palestinian society is permeated with sympathy for the most criminal, major Muslim movement, al-Qaeda. People who see a “peace agreement” as an interim stage toward the annihilation of Israel are unreliable partners to make concessions to. However, in view of future unforeseeable radical changes in the Middle East, true peace is not totally impossible in this century. Yet this can be the case only after many more problematic developments are dealt with.
Of the Israeli generations growing up, many will serve in the army and part of them will risk their lives. Once one’s life is at stake, everything else becomes secondary. The very different past experiences of Israel and other societies indicate that Israelis live in a reality and have worldviews that differ from those of other societies.
Having served in the army means that one cannot live a life as fully dominated by individualism as is possible in Europe. One can understand that for instance, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words uttered on 2012 National Memorial Day, “When you hear the siren tonight, we will turn into one family and the citizens of Israel will be united in our remembrance.” Western Europeans rarely turn into one family. It may happen incidentally to some extent - for example with disparate occurrences such as catastrophes or international soccer championships.
In Israel, due to the ups and downs of the economy and the political situation, few people outside government services assume that their employment is life-long. Percentage-wise, this has helped to cultivate many more people in Israel with well-developed flexible minds and attitudes to deal with unexpected situations than found in Europe.
Israel's unity threatened
Many Israeli youngsters realize – contrary to many Westerners – that they owe much to society and that what Israeli society owes to them has its limits. At the same time, Israel’s unity is threatened in very different ways by major segments of two growing parts of the population, Israeli Arabs and the Ultra-Orthodox, as well as by much smaller but far more vociferous groups of extreme leftists.
The threat of seeing one’s country destroyed is far from theoretical in Israel. In this type of reality, what should one advise Israeli youngsters who grow up in present-day society with vulnerabilities of a very different nature than European ones? Firstly, to continue informal learning during one’s whole active life. One should invest in one’s brain as much as possible. That will be the main portable source of one’s knowledge in crisis situations.
Israelis should learn as many skills as possible - preferably those which can also be used abroad. Furthermore, it is necessary to learn to speak proper English, which will remain the lingua franca of this century. Spending a few years abroad in one’s youth can be extremely useful for one’s future, wherever that may be. In an uncertain Israeli environment, the important skill of improvisation will be frequently required, and therefore further development of it will be useful.
Murphy’s Law is not necessarily valid. Not everything which can go wrong will go wrong. If Israel continues to flourish in the remarkable way it has done so far, the same skills will come in very handy in finding a place in Israeli society.
In Israel as elsewhere, there will be a small number of people who are extraordinarily talented. If they have reasonable emotional intelligence, their future in increasingly complex societies will offer them unprecedented opportunities. The overall complexity of future day-to-day life and technological advances will lead to the exclusion of many more people from the mainstream in advanced countries than is the case today.
To cope with this complexity, one will need knowledge of far more than basic numeracy and literacy. The extremely talented and flexible few have many more chances in opaque environments than in transparent ones. They will be able to find interesting openings in Western societies no matter what may happen. The same will be true in Israel as well.
Manfred Gerstenfeld is a member of the Board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, of which he has been Chairman for 12 years