Many observers, both domestically and abroad, claim that Israel is
an inherently racist country where Arabs are no more than second-class citizens. Others point to Israel’s robust democracy, which allows its Arab citizens to vote and grants them equal rights under the law, as the ultimate proof that the Jewish state is not guilty of anti-Arab racism.
Yet reality is often more complex, with clues as to the real nature of a country’s attitude to minorities often found in the nation’s daily life, and particularly in the public sphere – for example, on primetime television.
In this respect, Saturday night’s primetime lineup on Channel 2, Israel’s most popular television station, served as a fascinating litmus test as to the treatment accorded to the nation’s Arab citizens.
The Israeli version of “The Voice” talent show featured a competition pitting three young women against each other, including one Arab, Dana Dor, who chose to perform a special rendition of a Coldplay song – in Arabic. And what was the reaction of Israel’s mainstream? The judges – three of Israel’s top performers – praised Dana’s singing, as well as her decision to sing in Arabic. Moreover, the audience at home voted for Dana en masse, catapulting her to the next round.
The above appears to indicate that most viewers did not hold Dana’s ethnicity against her when they chose her as the night’s winner – or perhaps more accurately, they could care less that she is an Arab and voted for her simply because they felt she’s a better singer.
Next came an even more fascinating demonstration, when the hugely popular State of the Nation satire show hosted none other than belligerent, anti-Israel Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi. The event was preceded by an amusing, ongoing “dispute” between Zoabi and the show’s host, which at one point prompted her to publically complain that she should not be slammed on the show for refusing to appear on it. The show’s stars, in turn, ridiculed Zoabi regularly for her views and even inaugurated a special “When Hanin will come” weekly segment to the show.
Saturday night Hanin finally came, providing viewers at home with one of the most entertaining shows in recent memory. The sides quickly resorted to mutual albeit friendly jabs at each other, with Zoabi castigating the show’s host over his attitude to Arabs, while other participants grilled the Arab MK over her attitude to the Jewish state, at one point jokingly asking for her “final solution” to the conflict.
At the end of the show, Zoabi was given the opportunity to directly address the audience at home. The atmosphere throughout the night could be summed up as friendly, and despite Zoabi’s attempt to remain serious when addressing the issues at hand, she regularly burst into laughter – also when the show’s host asked her to sign the program’s “guestbook,” with a knife.
Zoabi took the jabs in stride, contributing her share to a lively and pleasant session that seemed to remind viewers that Israel’s Jews and Arabs can engage in good natured dialogue, despite their disagreements. The sides ended the night with a handshake and a smile.
Earlier that same day, Syrian military forces continued their vicious assault on the city of Homs, executing men, women and children in what journalists at the scene described as a brutal massacre and war crime.
So is Israel perfect? No. Is it inherently racist? As the examples above seem to indicate, probably not. In any case, the Jewish state is apparently not a bad place to live in – even if you’re an Arab.
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