New Study Finds Strong Jewish and Arab Consensus for Peaceful Coexistence in Israel [1]

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: (617) 495-1115
Contact Organization: Harvard Kennedy School Communications Office

Cambridge, MA – A new study…finds strong support for coexistence efforts amongst 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, with assistance from researchers at the University of Haifa.

A final report on the study is available on the web:

Among the study’s most surprising findings:

• A great majority of both Jewish citizens (73%) and Arab citizens (94%) want Israel to be a society in which Arab and Jewish citizens have mutual respect and equal opportunities.
• 68% of Jewish citizens support teaching conversational Arabic in Jewish schools to help bring Arab and Jewish citizens together.
• 77% of Arab citizens would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the world.
• More than two-thirds of Jewish citizens (69%) believe contributing to coexistence is a personal responsibility; a majority (58%) 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% of Jewish citizens and 84% of Arab citizens believe the 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 policy makers 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 that, “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 Jews. 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.”

About the Study

“Coexistence in Israel: A National Study” was conducted in an effort to directly examine the relations between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. The research team set out to understand the feelings and attitudes of Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel toward key aspects of coexistence, such as support, opportunity, language policy, integration, responsibility, and urgency. The study findings will hopefully provide insight and guidance not only for policymakers seeking to understand the Israeli public’s views on Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel, but also for the Israeli public.

The study was co-sponsored by the Alan B. Slifka Foundation and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School. Researchers at the University of Haifa assisted in the data collection. The study was co-authored by Todd L. Pittinsky, associate professor, Harvard Kennedy School; Jennifer L. Radcliff, a post-doctoral fellow, CPL; and Laura A. Maruskin, a research assistant, CPL.

About the Allophilia Project

Launched in 2004 by Harvard Kennedy School associate professor Todd Pittinsky, the Allophilia Project researches and advises on attitudes beyond tolerance — ways to promote feelings of interest, kinship comfort engagement and affection wherever there is diversity: jobs, schools, neighborhoods, nations, and the world.

About the Center for Public Leadership

The Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School seeks to expand the pool of leaders for the common good and to advance the frontiers of knowledge about leadership.

About Harvard Kennedy School

Harvard Kennedy School trains enlightened public leaders and generates the ideas that provide answers to the world’s most challenging public problems.

(It should be noted, though, that this does not examine similar attitudes among the residents of Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc. The attitudes of these other populations figure in the process of conflict or peace, too. Nevertheless, while any inequities or biases a study like this might find in the status of Arabs/Muslims in Israel should be addressed and corrected, they must also be compared with similar policies in other nations of the region and world.)