Netta Geist is a former Parliamentary Advisor to MK Stav Shaffir. She holds an MA in Public Policy from Oxford and has worked in both national and local government as a policy advisor.
For many years, Israel was synonymous with the Kibbutz. Attracting volunteers from across the world, the Kibbutzim dominated the military and industrial sectors, and galvanised an ethos of nation-building and mutual reliability. Though plenty of Kibbutzim survive today, they are no longer collective utopias and many have taken a severe beating in Israeli public opinion.
Today’s young Israelis do not aspire to work the land, but to ‘WeWork’. Although Adam Neumann, one of the founders of the multi-billion dollar ‘hi-tech’ company, grew up on a kibbutz, in many ways he encapsulates the new Israeli ethos – not ploughing the Negev, but ‘making an exit’: i.e. selling an ingenious ‘start-up’ for a profit. Many young Israelis dream of nothing more than joining the growing ranks of new hi-tech millionaires; not just residents of Tel Aviv, but jet-setting citizens of the world.
Once a communal utopian upstart, Israel now defines itself as the ‘start-up nation,’ globally renowned as a hub of technology and innovation. While the economic benefits of this development are undeniable, many mourn the transition from a socialist ethos to one of competitive individualism and the experience of deepening socio-economic, ethnic and religious divides.
Thus, as Israel prepares to celebrate its 70th birthday, its vibrant economy stands in stark contrast to political stagnation and a deadlocked peace process. And young Israelis have taken note. More and more are turning their backs on politics with each new corruption scandal and broken promise. This is not surprising; my generation – the oft-derided Millennials – were born into the chaos of the First Intifada and the bankruptcy of the Kibbutz movement. We grew up under the threat of the Second Intifada’s organised violence and saw the collapse of one peace initiative after another. More than any other generation, disillusionment underlines our political outlook.
In the Palestinian Authority, this perspective could have disastrous consequences. Youth unemployment is at almost 50 per cent, and even higher for university graduates. A Third Intifada, led by globally connected, Islamist Palestinian youth with no job prospects and no political representation (the last Palestinian presidential elections were held in 2005), is a constant threat.
Within Israel, the weariness of the young has brought about a shift in political focus. The social protests of 2011 crystallised the younger generation’s demand for a decent future, with a decent wage and a decent home. For the first time in decades, the Palestinian issue wasn’t the focus of a large scale, Israeli political movement. Some even portrayed the demands as apolitical. In theory, the youth had finally awakened, but in practice, the demands betrayed a consumerist attitude to politics, rather than a true revolution. It is no wonder that although some of the demands of the social protests have been partially met – minimal rental regulation was introduced in 2017, and the government has taken a more active interest in the housing market – the most successful campaign of recent years has been the decriminalisation of marijuana. Every visitor to Tel Aviv can smell the scent of escapism in the air.
Companies like WeWork are capitalising on this intersection of the untetheredness of the young – lacking a unifying ideology, sense of community, and job security – and our high expectations. WeLive is its latest offering, a ‘co-living community’, where every rented flat comes with shared lounges and amenities from bicycles to washing machines to happy hours, and one never has to call the cable guy. Perfect for cities where affordable real estate is rare and knowing your neighbours even more so, it’s a kibbutz for the 21st century (provided you have the cash), with ideology replaced by convenience.
Meanwhile, in Palestine, some private initiatives have already replaced government. Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city north of Ramallah, is a private venture fully funded by one visionary entrepreneur and the Qatari government. Bypassing a dysfunctional government, Palestinian businessman Bashar Masri has built an entire city from scratch, including pipes, roads, electricity, schools and even a sleekly-designed tech hub, for which he is busy recruiting companies to kick-start Palestine’s own start-up revolution. The slogan of the city is ‘Live, work, grow’. Given the colossal scale of construction, it is already Palestine’s largest employer.
In both Israel and Palestine, the challenge which will define the young generation in the coming decade is making sure that convenience does not become ideology. WeWork is not a kibbutz for one main reason – its members have no say in how it is run. The residents are not partners, but clients. Such an attitude may cause less friction in shared offices and buildings (as long as management is benevolent), but not in politics. Israel will not overcome its many economic, security and social challenges without offering the dynamism and creativity that characterises its private sector. Israeli politicians cannot afford to ignore the younger generation, both those able to take part in the global market, and those left behind. Private companies are already stepping into the void, sometimes altruistically, but mainly for profit; in all cases, without public scrutiny and inclusive decision-making.