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Will Gen Z change America’s foreign policy towards Israel?

Will Gen Z change America’s foreign policy towards Israel?

Not just the protests, but myriad polls show a dramatic shift away from unconditional support

Analysis | Latest

That Gen Z Americans have unique foreign policy views isn’t news, but the recent student-led protests over the Israel-Hamas war has highlighted the generational differences in this country and may portend a future political distancing of the U.S. from its long-time client in Tel Aviv.

Some of the indicators may be concerning. Aside from displaying more support for ceasefire than their older cohorts, a majority of 18-24 year-olds in a December Harvard/Harris poll — 67% — said they believe Jews “as a class” are oppressors, and that the 10/7 attack was justified by Palestinians’ grievances (60%). But then, the poll also found 78% of Americans aged 18-34 believe Israel has a right to exist. The majority of this cohort also called what Hamas did on Oct. 7 terrorism and said anti-Semitism is on the rise on college campuses.

Meanwhile, an April POLITICO-Morning Consult poll found only “15 percent of Gen Zers said they’re more sympathetic toward the Israelis, compared to 4o percent of Baby Boomers,” and 24% of Gen Zers said it was a top issue that would affect their vote vs. 11% for over-65 voters. Some 20% of Gen Zers support providing weapons to the Palestinians vs. 2% of over-65 voters.

And in April, Pew Research reported, “A third of adults under 30 say their sympathies lie either entirely or mostly with the Palestinian people, while 14% say their sympathies lie entirely or mostly with the Israeli people” and “older Americans, by comparison, are more likely to sympathize with Israelis than Palestinians.”

In November, the Brookings Institution reported, “Even before the Hamas invasion, there were distinct generational differences in Americans’ attitudes towards Israel,” adding, “only 41% of those aged 18-29 had a favorable view of Israel, compared to 69% of those aged 65 or older.”

To say this generation was primed for a shift is an understatement. New media has certainly taken advantage and is, at the same time, being fueled by these young voices and their consumption habits. Israel can no longer control the flow of information and messages. Networked tribalism, according to John Robb at City Journal, “bypasses traditional media by directly delivering information and moral framing to people using social networks.”. On TikTok, #freepalestine has 31 billion posts compared to 590 million for #standwithisrael, which led The New Arab to claim, “Palestinian solidarity won the internet.”

By the way, the U.S. has the most TikTok users — 116.5 million; a Pew survey late last year reported that about one-third of young Americans get their news from TikTok.

Recently, Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Secretary of State Tony Blinken commiserated over the negative effect of social media on the sustainability of the pro-Israel narrative. Romney volunteered that was the reason Congress voted to ban TikTok.

They don’t like that 50% of young Americans trust news from social media nearly as much as they do legacy media, and that more student protesters are relying on foreign media like Al Jazeera, which had been covering the conditions on the ground in graphic and persistent measure until Israel banned the network from operating there in early May.

Gen Z cannot be seen as a monolith but put the polling together and it would seem that younger Americnas are more questioning about why there is an unconditional relationship with Israel. Growing up in the shadow of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars they may be more skeptical about the prospect of another counterinsurgency at the expense of civilians, or collateral damage, which became the term of art during the years of the Global War on Terror.

Young Americans are rightly dubious when they see retired military officers — the same guys who led to the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan — on television supporting $175 billion to Ukraine for its role as a U.S. proxy in the NATO-Russia war, and over $300 billion to Israel — money that young Americans may think should be spent on “nation building here at home.”

And given the availability of information today, young Americans cannot be ignorant of the fact that far from being an underdog with persistent vulnerabilities in the region, Israel has nuclear weapons, is the most modern military in the region, and gets carte blanche from Washington via nearly $4 billion in military aid each year.

Add this to their social and economic challenges at home: Gen Z suffers from high levels of depression and anxiety. They sense their job prospects are limited, and that the American Dream is out of reach.

But there’s more grim news: America is almost $35 Trillion in debt, over $100,000 per citizen; its bond rating was recently cut to AA+; borrowing costs are climbing and interest costs on debt have nearly doubled to $659 billion over the course of two years. In addition, Social Security has an unfunded liability of almost $66 trillion and is approaching insolvency, probably depleting its reserves by 2033. Things are looking bleak for the U.S. economy as a whole.

Then there’s student loan debt of $1.75 trillion (including federal and private loans), $28,950 owed per borrower on average.

Both Republicans and Democrats would be wise to rethink their unconditional support for Israel as this demographic's support for it is no longer a given. Much of it too is the obvious gap between Israel’s professed ideals and the “facts on the ground.” According to Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi, many of the students feel a “moral imperative” to support Palestinians and they may not easily be deterred. And their left flank is protected as more American Jews are protesting and calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

When the Zs start running for political office and vote more in force, they may embark on a mission to rejuvenate America by first heeding the warning of George Washington and shaking off the “passionate attachment” to another nation that “produces a variety of evils” and could hazard America by creating "the illusion of a common interest ... where no common interest exists.”

Austin, TX, USA - April 25, 2024: University of Texas students protest Israel's war in Gaza and the arrest of students at a demonstration the previous day at a rally on campus. (Vic Hinterlang/Shutterstock)

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