• Reuven Sherwin

The "Coalition of Change" in Israel, 2021 - and its relation to Sherif's "Robbers Cave Experiment"

Updated: Apr 19

This essay was submitted as part of the requirements for completing the course "Introduction to Psychology" presented by Professor Steve Joordens of University of Toronto, on Coursera. Check it out.

 

On June 13th, 2021, a first-time-ever event took place in Israeli politics.


A new government was installed that included both right-wing and left-wing, Arab and Jewish parties (more about it here).

At its helm is Naftali Benet, the 13th Prime Minister of Israel, who is replacing Benjamin Netanyahu - to date the longest serving Prime Minister.


For context, the reader should understand that between April-2019 and March-2021 - a span of less than two years - the State of Israel had four (4) legislative election campaigns - an average of once every 6 months. This is an exceptional statistic, since by-law, the elections should be held once every 4 years (once every 48 months)…


Without delving into the mechanics of the Israeli political system (more about it here), one needs to understand that the system allows for multiple parties to compete for 120 seats in the Israeli Parliament (called Knesset). After the elections, the leader of the party with the most support from other parties gets an opportunity to form a coalition of a majority (61 or more of 120 members), thus becoming Prime Minister of Israel.


After three previous election rounds, no stable coalition of similar-minded parties was successfully formed.


And so, the unbelievable has come to pass - parties that just a short while before were (figuratively speaking) "at each other's throats", listing from-dawn-to-sunset the "evil" the other parties represented, have all sworn to join the same coalition and government.


Considering the diversity of the parties in general, and in the context of Israeli politics in particular, this was unbelievable.


Well, unbelievable unless one is familiar with Muzafer Sherif's (1906-1988) experiment, commonly known as "Robbers Cave Experiment" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realistic_conflict_theory#Robbers_cave_study).


Sherif conducted the experiment (1954) in a boys' summer camp. In the first stage, the boys were randomly assigned to two equally-sized groups, and were given an opportunity to bond - thus creating an "in-group" identity (among these activities, they named their groups - "Eagles" and "Rattlers", selected flags and had other bonding activities).


In the second stage, Sherif created competitions between the two groups in various camp games. These competitions resulted in negative feelings and unfavorable behaviours towards the "out-group" - the "other" team.


Furthermore, by this stage virtually all friendships were within the in-group.

In the third and final stage, Sherif attempted to reconcile the two groups, by creating common goals: tasks they had to complete together, such as getting water to the camp, erecting huts, fixing camp equipment and other such activities. This decreased tensions between groups and fostered some cross-group friendships.


The Robbers Cave experiment provides a sort of an explanation as to how the diverse Israeli parties joined force. They all had one super-goal, one they believed was more important than their immediate agendas, and that was to replace the Prime Minister of the past 12 years, who seemed unable to lose an election - Benjamin Netanyahu.

The reasons for this super-goal were diverse. While there's no Benjamin Netanyahu had a lot of great achievements in his terms as Prime Minister, there was criticism of him from all parties and the feelings these parties shared was it's time for change - time for a Coalition of Change.


Yet, irrespective of their differing agendas, none of these parties was able to accomplish their goal on their own or with a more satisfying or favorable coalition. So to pursue this higher-level goal, the left-right- Arab-Jewish parties pulled their resources together - and formed a first-of-its-kind coalition in Israel, taking the Robbers Cave Experiment from the realm of a boys summer camp into the Israeli Knesset.


And the big question is "now what?"


Now that all members of this in-group achieved their immediate goal, what is to prevent them from reverting to their in-fighting for pursuing separate agendas, re-forming multiple out-groups, causing the already-fragile "coalition of change" to fall apart?


Well, relying on the lessons of the Robbers Cave, the parties should continuously set joint-effort goals - and achieve them together.

They can no longer be allowed to be "the other"/"the out-group" based on the classic divisions in Israel - right/left, Arab/jew, liberal/conservative - all should work hard to become the "in-group".


They should, and actually must, focus on the common goals: the wellbeing of all the citizens of Israel and make Israel a great-country for all of its citizens.

 

(c) 2021, Reuven J. Sherwin

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