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Thursday, August 22, 2019

With the topic of Israel appearing to have fallen through the cracks of the Democratic platform, Democratic presidential hopefuls are losing support from single-issue Israel voters in general and younger Israel supporters in particular. It used to be that younger voters, and pre-voters, were typically Democrats, oftentimes changing their political allegiance as they aged. In this heated political climate, Modern Orthodox members of this younger set appear to be torn, socially siding with their non-Orthodox or non-Jewish peers, but standing with older Modern Orthodox voters on the issue of Israel.

The changing tide of the Democratic Party has led younger Modern Orthodox voters to be increasingly influenced by their parents and teachers, who often urge support of the Republican Party, which purports to still have Israel’s back. Raised in these right-leaning settings, young Jews are exposed to the political beliefs of youth who identify as liberals, often via social media, against the background of the beliefs with which they were raised. This presents a challenge to up-and-coming voters. With which party should they align themselves?

The recent surge in liberalism within the Democratic Party appears to have attracted the more socially conscious younger generation. According to the Washington Examiner, in fact, newly registered voters align themselves by 40% with the Democratic Party. Social media is a unique platform to which these political organizations, and social causes, feel drawn to spread their message. Due to younger generations being significantly more exposed to technology than their older counterparts, new voters absorb much of their news through the platform of social media, which carries the danger of bias. Organizations and individuals feel free to spread their messages on social media, hiding behind the protection of internet anonymity, so younger voters, perhaps without firmly established political views of their own, may be getting biased or incomplete information.

Consider the Twitter wars between President Donald Trump and a large number of political, news and entertainment personalities. Many impressionable viewers follow political influencers, politicians, news sources or the president himself on Twitter and receive very opinionated and one-sided information. The terms and “facts” these sources use then become mainstream information for the curious youths, who often adopt their idolized social media personality’s views as their own.

This viciously partisan environment on social media has caused young people to believe that the only way to maintain a firm political stance is to pick a side, according to the New York Times. The Times also noted that 59% of people between 18 and 24 are Democrats, and even those who are Republicans hold more liberal views than older Republicans. This likely means that fewer and fewer voters are showing clear support of Israel. For rising young Jewish voters, this creates an entirely new and potentially dangerous political environment at a time when they are beginning to formulate independent opinions.

The recent Democratic debate introduced a myriad of problems for the average Modern Orthodox pre-voter. Teenagers may currently feel little to no connection to the Democratic candidates because they did not touch upon one major issue about which students feel passionate: Israel. However, socially speaking, they may agree with some or many of the candidates.

Although Jews should be proud of their firm stance on Israel, it does place young Jewish voters in a confusing position. Young, newly registered Democrats have been multiplying and their voices are being heard everywhere from college campuses and advocacy groups to Capitol Hill. Young Modern Orthodox Jews are finding themselves caught directly between what they hear at home and what they see on social media and nationally from their peers. This raises important questions regarding the possibility, and threat, of Israel losing its importance to future Jewish voters.

As students get older, they are finding a whole new world, literally, at their fingertips. Having social media as an additional resource, besides their family and school, for political opinions is both a dangerous and positive opportunity. The dangers lie in the altered news put forth by hate groups, among others, targeting Israel. As Modern Orthodox students reach voting age and look to social media for support, it is crucial that they not be swayed by misleading or biased news, which means young voters have to be more vigilant than ever before in discerning fact from fiction.

However, it is equally critical for these voters to wisely weigh their views on Israel alongside general American issues when making their personal political decisions. Because the bottom line lies in the word “personal.” The goal of older generations should be raising educated individuals who derive their opinions from their own views of the world, rather than from what is fed to them at home, in school or in the forum of social media.

By Hannah Kirsch

Hannah Kirsch is a rising senior at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston and a summer intern at The Jewish Link.