A new study released May 15 finds strong support for coexistence efforts among a majority of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. The findings may buoy hopes for long-term peace in the region.
“Coexistence in Israel: A National Study” provides a compelling snapshot of current relations between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel as the nation celebrates its 60th anniversary. Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) associate professor Todd L. Pittinsky, research director of the school’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL), served as lead researcher on the project. The study was conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, and included 1,721 adult citizens of Israel; researchers at the University of Haifa assisted.
Among the study’s findings:
• A great majority of both Jewish citizens (73 percent) and Arab citizens (94 percent) want Israel to be a society in which Arab and Jewish citizens have mutual respect and equal opportunities.
• 68 percent of Jewish citizens support teaching conversational Arabic in Jewish schools to help bring Arab and Jewish citizens together.
• 77 percent of Arab citizens would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the world.
• More than two-thirds of Jewish citizens (69 percent) believe contributing to coexistence is a personal responsibility; a majority (58 percent) of Jewish citizens also support Cabinet-level action.
• Arab citizens and Jewish citizens both underestimate their communities’ liking of the “other.”
• Urgent action on coexistence in Israel is desired: 66 percent of Jewish citizens and 84 percent of Arab citizens believe that Israeli government investments should begin now, and not wait until the end of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Addressing the significance of the study’s most salient findings, Pittinsky remarked: “These data support what we’ve found in our allophilia research around the world — evidence of interest, comfort, and affection among some, even in communities in conflict. A growing body of research is showing that it is possible for members of groups who are very different from each other not only to tolerate each other — but to feel positive toward each other despite their differences, even in Israel. We call these positive feelings allophilia.”
Pittinsky notes that much media coverage focuses on the divisions between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel, and not enough on the sincere and concerted efforts to coexist peacefully.
“Everyday innovative experiments in coexistence are going on,” Pittinsky said. “People on the ground in Israel are running community centers that enable cultural exchanges; in bilingual schools — like the Hand in Hand network of schools — young Jewish and Arab children become culturally conversant with each other. These deserve as much attention as rockets and roadblocks. They should be nurtured, studied, funded, and reported in the media. Ultimately, the most successful of them should be promulgated.”
According to Alan Slifka, a philanthropist who has funded many grassroots coexistence projects in Israel, and whose foundation funded the study: “This report supports what we have long suspected — unity among Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities is not only attainable, but there is great public support for it. The critical next step is for Israeli policymakers to bring about the structural changes that the Jewish and Arab publics support, to reshape the educational, income, residential, and other divides that undermine national unity.”
Pittinsky notes, “A change in Jewish-Arab relations within Israel could help form the grassroots platform to support shifts from regional conflict toward regional cooperation between Arab and Jew. Improving the equality and constructive engagement of Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens may help create a ripple effect that will spread, including the course of the relations of not only Jews and Arabs in Israel, but the Middle East more broadly.”