Friday, January 18, 2013

Arabs succeeding on Israeli reality TV

Al Monitor has an article by Shlomi Eldar claiming that Israeli Jews are increasingly racist and hateful towards their fellow Arab citizens.
[Arabs] are increasingly perceived by the Jewish majority as undeserving of even the most basic rights. The attitude taking root in Israel today is that Arabs are not part of the nation’s social fabric, that they should either be evicted or penned in, and that they deserve to lose their citizenship.

He then claims that the only place that Israelis see Arabs as human beings is reality TV.

His argument is a bit undercut when he shows how often Arabs are winning the reality TV audience voting. If Israeli Jews were such bigots, why would they vote for those that (Eldar claims) they hate?
It all began with "Project Y," the first reality show ever aired in Israel. The winner, Faris Huri, was a young Israeli Arab, and his victory was seen as an expression of pluralism and acceptance of the other. That show was aired more a decade ago. Since then, there has been increasing hatred and hostility in Israel. Nonetheless, the power of reality television to present an alternative Arab face has only gotten stronger.

In 2006, Niral Karantinji, a young Muslim from Haifa, participated in "Israel’s Next Top Model." On this show, the Israeli public was introduced to a beautiful, bold young woman, photographed in swimwear and revealing clothes and shattering conventions along the way. She may have been rejected by the other contestants, not least because of her origins — but the Israeli public voted for her anyway, and she ended up winning the show. She was the judges' choice, but she was the audience's choice as well.

Two years ago, Futna Jaber, a restaurant-owner from Jaffa, became a housemate on "Big Brother." Jaber later went on to become a popular celebrity on talk shows and cooking shows. In doing so, she presented a very different message about the status of Arab women than the preconceived notions that can be deeply rooted in Israel's Jews.

Then there is "A Star Is Born," which has emerged in recent years as the proverbial campfire where all of Israel gathers and shares its songs and stories in one big jamboree. This is a seminal show that shapes and influences Israeli society, and one of its contestants, Miriam Tukan from the village of Iblin, made it all the way to ninth place. Tukan performed Israeli classics with a thick Arabic accent, stunning the judges and audience alike. A beautiful young Israeli Arab took songs that are hallmarks of Israeli culture, plucked them out of their natural setting and put a whole new twist on them — and it worked. People loved it.

But beyond a doubt the person who showed off the Arab community in a way that many Jews had never seen them before was Salma Fayumi from Kfar Kassem, who was a contestant on "Master Chef." Fayumi, a nurse with a master’s degree, is a devout Muslim who wears the hijab. She is one of the most impressive reality stars to appear on television in years. Yes, she looks like an Arab, but apart from her appearance, it is virtually impossible to pigeonhole her. Her Hebrew is fluent and rich, and her sense of humor is tantalizingly self-deprecating. She is good-looking, educated and a wonderful cook. This is the stuff that reality stars are made on.
The supposed racism of Israeli Jews doesn't jive with these successes (and there are lots of other Arab contestants who have done well in Israeli reality shows as well.)

Of course there are Jews who are bigoted against Arabs, but too many on Israel's Left exaggerate the phenomenon in order to score points with their audience and to demonize parts of their own society.

I'm not seeing too many self-flagellating articles in the US media about racism in America today - even though a recent poll showed 51% of Americans have explicitly negative attitudes towards blacks. Somehow, they managed to elect a black President - twice.

Bigotry exists everywhere on the planet, but it is not a defining attitude in Israeli society just as it isn't in the US.

Too bad there are no Shlomi Eldars in any Arab countries who are willing to make a stand where it really matters. Maybe he can write about that one day.