Chagai M. Weiss, University of Wisconsin Madison
Segregation, conceptualized as “the extent to which individuals of different groups occupy or experience different social environments” (Reardon and O’Sullivan, 2004), is common to the lives of many Jewish and Palestinian citizens in Israel. For the most part, Israeli Jews wake up in Jewish neighborhoods, attend predominantly Jewish schools, marry through Jewish-religious state institutions, and rarely sustain extended social relations with Palestinians. Relatively similar routines are experienced by Palestinian citizens of Israel. Despite these stark patterns of segregation, brief intergroup interactions in public transportation systems, courts, hospitals, and markets, are a matter of routine, as both groups share limited geographical, social, and political space. Regardless of whether a one or two state solution will eventually materialize, or whether annexation of West Bank territories will take place in the near future, Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel will most likely continue to live in relatively segregated environments, while sharing some social and political spaces. Therefore, social scientist and scholars of Israeli politics must understand how segregation and integration shape intergroup relations.
In what follows, I argue that understanding intergroup relations between Jews and Palestinians in Israel, requires paying close attention to segregation, its effects on prejudice, and the way such prejudice may be reduced. I build on a robust social scientific literature which was initially developed in the U.S. (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006), and extended to contexts such as Rwanda, India, Northern Ireland, Kenya, Lebanon, and Iraq (Paluck, 2009; Barnhardt, 2009; Kasara, 2013; Balcells, Daniels and Escriba`-Folch, 2016; Scacco and Warren, 2018). Like in many of these contexts, segregation patterns in Israel are rather stark. More so, they are amplified by formal and informal institutions that generate social distance between Jews and Palestinians. Focusing on recent advances in the study of segregation and intergroup relations, I aspire to shed light on three significant questions for Israeli politics and beyond: (i) What are the effects of segregation? (ii) How do these effects manifest in Israel, and (iii) What interventions might durably mitigate the adverse consequences of segregation?
What are the Effects of Segregation and How do they Manifest in Israel?
Identifying the effects of social-geographical contexts on attitudes and behaviors is notoriously challenging, as self-selection into neighborhoods or cities limits researchers’ ability to determine whether living in isolation causes prejudice, or alternatively prejudiced individuals are just more likely to live in segregated environments. To overcome this thorny challenge, scholars have leveraged rigorous research designs and granular data, demonstrating that spatial segregation increases in-group bias and violence, and decreases social trust in out-groups. The effects of segregation are often attributed to a lack of intergroup contact in segregated environments, which limits the ability of in-groups to “learn about the other” (Allport, 1954).
Existing theory and evidence from around the world would suggest that in Israel – a country where segregation is prevalent – in-group bias, violence, and a general lack of trust between Jews and Palestinians would have serious consequences for individual citizens. Indeed, political scientists and economists have long focused on the Israeli case, demonstrating patterns of in-group bias (Shayo and Zussman, 2011; Grossman et al., 2016; Zussman, 2013a), as well as discrimination (Bar and Zussman, 2017; Zussman, 2013b). Similarly, preferences for exclusion have also been shown to hinder Jewish cooperation with Palestinians in behavioral public goods games (Enos and Gidron, 2018).
The rigorous evidence regarding in-group bias and discrimination against Palestinians is aligned with headlines from Israeli news outlets during recent years depicting negative sentiments towards minorities. For example: An Israeli lawmaker from the Jewish Home Party openly supported segregation in maternity wards, protesters backed up by a local mayor advocated against selling homes to Palestinian citizens of Israel in Afula, and Israel’s prime-minister has described the “Arab vote” as a threat to Israeli security. More generally, in recent elections the Joint List party, which represents a majority of Palestinian citizens in Israel, has been delegitimized as a coalition partner by right and center-left politicians, raising serious questions regarding the prospects of intergroup cooperation around social and political issues.
The grim reality of intergroup relations between Jews and Palestinians raises important questions for anyone interested in Israeli politics. Most importantly: How can prejudice be reduced, and what existing practices serve to improve intergroup relations? These questions are especially important for proponents of a one state solution, or supporters of West Bank annexation policies, under which Jewish-Palestinian interactions may very well become a more central facet of everyday life. To answer this question, I now turn to discuss common frameworks of prejudice reduction which have been tested in post-conflict zones as well as in countries struggling with peacefully accommodating their ethnic and racial diversity.
What is Prejudice and How can we Reduce it?
Social scientists have long explored strategies to reduce prejudice, conceptualized as “a negative bias toward a social category of people, with cognitive, affective, and behavioral components” (Paluck and Green, 2009). Indeed, scholars have developed a host of tools for attitudinal and behavioral change, the most central ones being: diversity trainings (Paluck, 2006), emotion regulation sessions (Gross, Halperin and Porat, 2013), perspective taking tasks (Broockman and Kalla, 2016; Adida, Lo and Platas, 2018; Simonovits, Kezdi and Kardos, 2018), and intergroup contact interventions (Paluck, Green and Green, 2017; Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006). More broadly, building on Gordon Allport’s robust theoretical insights in The Nature of Prejudice (Allport, 1954), many scholars perceive integration, the opposite of segregation, as a remedy for prejudice.
The logic of integration as a strategy to improve intergroup relations goes as follows: When groups are kept apart they know little about each other, and ignorance about an out-group can facilitate fear, negative stereotypes, and preferences for exclusion. Therefore, in order to counter ignorance, Palestinians and Jews should be integrated, and eventually intergroup relations will improve, especially when integration facilitates personal positive relationships between members of different groups. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that under certain conditions, intergroup contact and exposure can have remarkable effects which improve intergroup attitudes and behaviors (Barnhardt, 2009; Ditlmann and Samii, 2016; Rao, 2019; Mousa, 2018; Scacco and Warren, 2018; Weiss, 2020). Yet unfortunately for integration enthusiasts, exposure to diversity and intergroup contact are not a panacea for poor intergroup relations, as in some instances contact (especially if brief), can reinforce threat perceptions and stereotypes that increase hostility towards out-groups (Enos, 2014, 2017; Condra and Linardi, 2019).
The revival of studies on prejudice reduction in recent years provide us with interesting empirical patterns which may shed light on the conditions under which integration, and more specifically contact and exposure to diversity, may improve intergroup relations. Broadly speaking, interventions that facilitate positive intergroup contact, in which in-groups and out-groups can cooperate or respectfully share space together, have been shown to reduce prejudice. For example, attendees of a religiously diverse class during an urban youth vocational program in Nigeria were less likely to discriminate against out-groups, in comparison to attendees of homogenous classes (Scacco and Warren, 2018). Similarly, integrating poor students into Indian schools caused rich students to be more pro-social, generous and egalitarian, and less discriminatory towards poor students (Rao, 2019). In yet another field-experiment in post-ISIS Iraq, Christians playing on the same team as Muslims during a 3-month soccer league reported more tolerant behaviors, and were more likely to self-select into Muslim dominant environments (Mousa, 2018). While these studies suggest that extended positive contact reduces prejudice, my own study leveraging a natural experiment in Israeli medical clinics, suggests that even very brief contact between Palestinian doctors and Israeli patients can reduce prejudice up to ten days following treatment (Weiss, 2020).
Conversely, studies that identify the effects of intergroup contact, absent cooperation or a shared positive experience, paint a very different picture. Thus, white commuters exposed to Latino confederates as part of a field-experiment in Boston train stations reported more exclusionary attitudes in comparison to non-exposed white commuters (Enos, 2014). Similarly, in a field-experiment in post-conflict Afghanistan, contact with non-Pashtuns increased ethnic bias amongst Pashtuns in behavioral games (Condra and Linardi, 2019). Lastly, brief exposure to Syrian refugees increased hostile attitudes and exclusionary policy preferences amongst Greek natives (Hangartner et al., 2019).
Taken together these studies show that integration that does not entail meaningful intergroup engagement is limited in its ability to promote tolerance. This general insight is corroborated by a recent field experiment in India that directly demonstrates how collaborative contact improves intergroup relations, whereas adversarial contact impairs attitudes and behaviors (Lowe, 2018). Therefore, it is important to think of the types of experiences that integration and inclusion facilitate, in order to maximize their utility for intergroup relations.
How to Think of Israel?
Rigorous evidence from around the world suggesting that certain types of integration can reduce prejudice between groups in conflict may instill hope in the hearts of people seeking to improve intergroup relations in Israel. However, a skeptical reader might wonder whether evidence from racially divided contexts like the U.S., or post conflict zones like Iraq, are applicable to the Israeli case. More specifically, scholars of prejudice reduction and intergroup relations in Israel are often confronted with a thorny question: What is Israel a case of? This question is consequential, as it likely dictates the theoretical frameworks and empirical body of evidence on which scholars build when analyzing segregation, integration, and intergroup relations in Israel.
Scholars and policy makers often consider Israel to be a unique case. Indeed, the division of Palestinian populations between the West Bank, Gaza, Israel’s 1948 borders, and a global diaspora (described by Erakat), the presence of military occupation over civilian populations (analyzed by Greenwald), the fusion of institutional arrangements which are a legacy of colonial rule and Jewish Israeli Law (described by Berda), the existence of intergroup cleavages within Jewish society (discussed by Freedmen, Ben-Shitrit, and Shafir), the salience of national identities (studied by Shelef), and the ongoing attempts to reach what now seems like an unfeasible two-state peace agreement (described by Lustick), do create a unique social and political environment in which intergroup relations emerge.
The unique characteristics of Israel can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity for scholars of intergroup relations. Thus, the similarity of specific dynamics in the Israeli case to caste-based discrimination in India, racial segregation in the U.S., and threat perceptions of Muslim immigrants in Europe, should inspire scholars to adapt an open mindset towards different approaches through which one may study the causes, effects, and remedies of segregation. That said, these approaches must be adapted with extreme care, and an explicit awareness to the ways in which contextual variables may moderate theoretical expectations.
For example, even though close to a million Palestinians hold citizenship status in Israel, they are often regarded by Jewish Israeli citizens and politicians as a fifth column, aligned with a hostile Arab enemy. This provides the Israeli case with a taste of an ethno-national conflict, which differentiates social relations in Israel from non-conflict zones like the U.S. It follows, that trust building in the Israeli case, may be a particularly challenging goal to achieve. However, scholars should remember that despite the taste of ethno-national conflict, there are still structural variables like shared institutions and spaces, which resemble ethnically or racially diverse societies which are not entangled in intractable conflicts. Therefore, focusing on these shared spaces, observing intergroup dynamics within them, and considering how existing institutions can be a vehicle for social change, are all tasks for which the Israeli case is particularly conducive, in contrast to other conflict ridden environments.
In essence, the answer to the puzzling question: What is Israel a case of? depends on the issue area we are exploring. Oftentimes, we will be able to draw similarities between Israel and a host of diverse contexts. Nonetheless, the precise moderating effects that Israel’s unique context may have on our theoretical priors and expectations, is an open question which requires ongoing empirical investigations. For example, it is often argued that institutional support of intergroup contact initiatives is crucial for prejudice reduction to succeed (Allport, 1954). Nonetheless, many minorities in Israel take issue with state institutions, and therefore it is possible that intergroup contact initiatives supported by state institutions will be limited in their effectiveness.
When focusing on segregation, integration, and prejudice reduction, academics and local practitioners can learn together what policies and interventions improve intergroup relations. Doing so can generate novel theoretical insights with direct policy implications, which may shape the lives of Jews and Palestinians sharing political, social, and geographical spaces. The capacity for such collaborations between academics and practitioners exists in Israel (Ditlmann and Samii, 2016; Weiss, 2019), and serves as a fertile ground for exciting and socially engaged social scientific research.
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 I thank participants of the “What is Israel” workshop at George Washington University, as well as Gavi Barnard, Michael Freedman, Daniel Madmon, Alex Scacco, and Nadav Shelef for insightful comments and conversations.