What used to be a trickle of bizarre articles from the Muslim Arab world has recently turned in a real deluge. Every evening, alongside the morning shows and in newspaper centerfolds, key news broadcasts present us with dozens of peculiar stories about our neighbors.
In a single day's random selection we got to see a magician from Saudi Arabia who seemingly cut his arm with a sword; an Egyptian sheikh calling for the subtle beating of wayward women without leaving marks on their body; another appearance of the male bee Nahul, the cousin of Hamas mouse Farfur, who last week was beaten to death by a Shin Bet interrogator; and a report that fathers in Gaza are naming their babies Mahmoud Abbas and Abu Mazen in defiance of the Hamas rule.
Those who happened to miss the broadcasts in the evening undoubtedly saw them in the morning or read about them in the newspapers.
What does this resemble? Imagine that the media in Europe or in America would focus on the strange rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef (a man is prohibited from having his hair cut by a female hairdresser); or on some arrogant statement about Palestinians made by a Yesha Council leader; or the series of abject acts by former President Moshe Katsav and the exposure of an outrageous TV series – presenting them as an accurate image of Israel.
From regular monitoring of key Arab media outlets, I can testify that Israel's character was never limited to such curiosities, and alongside them there has always been room for serious and rational debate.
It's easier to ridicule
It appears that we have lost our desire to really understand the Arab and Islamic worlds, and have resorted to light and forgiving ridicule. There is something calming and reconciling in this.
It's easier for people to ridicule. With the new websites that collect and translate Arab TV broadcasts, these peculiarities can easily be found without the special effort required by Arab and Islamic affairs journalists in the past. Reporters pounce on these humorous articles like a pack of animals in order to enhance rating and attract viewers. Indeed, this is showbiz at its best. However, in the long term the current trend may end up costing us.
The Arab and Iranian worlds are conducting an ongoing and serious intellectual debate, despite and perhaps because of the repressive regimes in many of their countries. Questions pertaining to modernization, globalization, religion and state, openness and seclusion - arise in all their harshness. Israel's attributes, problems and position in the Middle East are part of this debate. Many have called to reject this debate as a foreign element and destroy it, while others are treating it as a fait accompli that must be accepted and lived with.
Due to the vast curiosity this debate is creating, and the attempt to understand it, an impressive influx of information on Israel is flowing to the Arab world, including translations of the best of articles appearing in the Israeli press.
We in turn, know very little about the politics and discourse of the world around us and are raising the next generation of statesmen, intelligence and media personnel on a diet comprised primarily of Farfur and Nahul the bee.