Consider how unlikely it is for Arab Labor (Hebrew language website) to be a hit on Israeli TV. In a nation that generally scorns Arabic, 70% of the dialogue is in that language with Hebrew subtitles. In a TV culture in which 2% of characters are Israeli Arabs, this show showcases them in virtually all the leading roles. The show lampoons Israeli racism toward Arabs, not usually a laughing matter in Israel’s prickly political environment (it also lampoons Israeli Arab attitudes as well to maintain a comedic balance). The idea for the show originated with its Orthodox Jewish producer who turned to an Israeli Arab writer and journalist, Sayed Kashua who writes in Hebrew for the leading Israeli liberal daily.
So how did it happen that this show struck a nerve? Perhaps Israeli society has advanced to the point where it can look at itself and see the warts while laughing at them. Perhaps it can now acknowledge that all is not well in ethnic relations between majority and minority. If this is so, then this bodes well for Israel. Of course, this could all be a fluke as many cultural phenomena are, and the show could flame out and end up having little lasting impact. But I’m betting that won’t be the case.The title, Avoda Aravit, refers, as Isabel Kershner notes in her excellent NY Times article, to the slang term meaning “inferior workmanship.” It establishes the sly ironic tone of the entire show. No one’s ox is spared. Arab Labor is to Israeli society what All in the Family was to 1970s America. It holds up a mirror to both sides of the ethnic divide and finds both wanting. But it does so in a way that allows both sides to see the humanity of the other. In this day and age of hatred and bloodshed, there is a lot to be said for such an approach:
Welcome to Mr. Kashua’s world, which, like the series, “Avoda Aravit,” or Arab Labor, works on multiple, often paradoxical levels. The title is Hebrew slang for second-rate work, and the one that Mr. Kashua chose.
On one hand Mr. Kashua has managed to barge through cultural barriers and bring an Arab point of view — mostly expressed in colloquial Arabic — into the mainstream of Israeli entertainment. On the other, “Avoda Aravit” reflects a society still grappling with fundamental issues of identity and belonging in a Jewish state which, Mr. Kashua says, still largely relates to its Arab minority as “a fifth column or a demographic problem.”
“I wanted to bring likable Arabs into the average Israeli living room,” Mr. Kashua said.
A few days ago, I wrote about the stunning Israeli Arab actress and singer Mira Awad. It should be noted that she plays the daughter on the show and has a clip featured in the Al Jazeera video featured above.
Kashua has written two Hebrew novels, one of which, Dancing Arabs, I’ve featured here with an Amazon link.
Bill Pearlman says
How is this possible under the judeo-nazi jackboot of zionist apertheid genocidal oppression? Surely this is propaganda put out by the neocon/aipac/pnac juggernaut that seeks to hide the true plans of the ashke-nazi oppressors. And is just a plan to distract the Arabs so they couldn’t return to the garden of eden utopias that they were ejected from by the so called khazeri Jews.
El Tostito says
Bill, the trolling has gotten pretty old. Go outside and have some fresh air.
What I found most interesting about this article was the little things the journalist did. There are “discrepiencies” in land access and public funding in Israel, I’m fascinated why she didn’t use “discrimination” which seems a much more precise word. Discrimination captures the intentionalities in a way that discrepencies doesn’t.
When writing about the number of arabs in commercials, they aren’t 1% but 2% of 50%,.
She ends the article with a question of whether arabs would be willing to live next to Mr. Kashua. They already do, as she said in her article he has moved from arab town to arab town, he wasn’t described as being driven out of any of them. Excellent way to imply something for which she has no evidence.
Marc Silverstein says
can anyone else say “All in the Family”???
Ham Bone says
People keep comparing this show to “All in the Family” and I don’t see a similarity. In “All in the Family” a bigot makes racist comments. It was said that some laughed at Archie Bunker and some laughed with Archie Bunker. Also “All in The Family” poked fun at Christianity since it is a religion that following the scriptures that being gay is wrong and the show wanted to support gays. Does “Arab Labor” do this?
Also, “All in the Family” made jokes out of rape, leaving the laugh track on when Edith or Gloria are rape victims.
I think you might put “Arab Labor” in a class by itself.
Richard Silverstein says
Bill: You’re at the wrong website. You must think you’re at Joachim Martillo’s site. I think you made a wrong turn somewhere south of the West Bank. Since it’s yr sworn Hasbara task to troll through sites like this one, Mondoweiss & God knows where else, you might want to get yr bearings & return to from whence you came.
N: Those are very perceptive things to have noted. I didn’t catch that at all. But she was clearly bending over backwards to present the story w/o any edge even though it could’ve used some.
Bill Pearlman says
I did forget neocon. Whcih has we all well know really means blood sucking Jew Zionist warmonger.
Just making a point Rich
Perception precedes observation, my 10th grade english teacher was definitely right.
Marc Sivlerstein percieves it to be “All in the Family”, Palestinian citizens of Israel percieve it to be “Amos and Andy”. I haven’t seen it, but perception makes all the difference. The whites that “All in the Family” was about weren’t offended (that I know of), the blacks which “Amos and Andy” was about were offended.
I am far from sure the reporter was “bending over backwards to present the story w/o any edge”. It seems just as likely to me that the reporter’s biases lead her to think that discrimanation is “discrepencies”, that “Amos and Andy” and “All in the Family” are the same thing.
She took a story about one man’s attempt to challenge jewish racism in Israel and ended it by implying that the real intolerance was Palestinian citizens of Israels opposition to a show they see as “Amos and Andy”
Thank goodness Bill Pearlman is here to deconstruct things for us all. I was afraid I might have to make my own judgements. Would love to see an episode of the program. What Bill often ignores is that while there is some freedom for this type of expression in Israel, it is most sorely lacking here in the US.
Howard Hoffman says
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival just presented most of the first season of episodes, 3 per “film”. In Palo Alto, we saw #1, 4 &5. They invited representatives of the Arab Film Festival. It would have been interesting to have heard their take on this series. I loved the shows, and so did the rest of the audience. Two problems with comparing Arab Labor to Amos & Andy: The shows were conceived by and written by an Israeli Arab. This series skewer Arabs and Jews. I sincerely hope that Israeli Arabs do enjoy the series. This looked like an interesting post and discussion, although I do not care for the books advertised on the page.
Richard Silverstein says
@Howard Hoffman: You’re very lucky to live in a place where the Jewish culturati (i.e. those running the Festival) know about Avodah Aravit & screened it for you.
How would you know? Have you read any of them? Many of them deal w. precisely the same issues dealt with in the Israeli TV show albeit in a less jocular way.
Howard Hoffman says
I used to be a big fan of Jimmy Carter. I have heard him interviewed about his book, defending the inaccuracies, including the misleading title. While I support the end of the Occupation as soon as practical, to compare it to Apartheid is just dishonest.
Most Israelis support peace. They yearn for that more than control of the West Bank. The problem is that the majority of the Palestinians yearn for death, revenge, and destruction of the Jewish State.
I believe in universal national determination. This is not always easy as the world continues to evolve in the post-colonial era. The Kurds should have a state, so should the Tibetans, so should the Jews of Israel, so should the Palestinians. When the great majority of Palestinians believe in a Jewish state living in peace alongside a Palestinian state, then there is a good chance for real peace. Even Abbas rejects the concept of a Jewish state. The corrupt, cowardly leadership of the Palestinians and most of the adjoining Arab countries is the real reason that the Palestinians are stuck in such a bad situation. And, they keep making things worse by supporting groups like Hamas. They are totally into the blame game, and do not take responsibility for their own failures. Sadat was the best Arab leader of the last 50 years, and he died because of his courage. I hope that the King of Jordan survives, in spite of all those who would assassinate him if they could. He is also a relatively good leader.
The Israeli Arabs are the freest Arabs in the entire Arab world, with the most human rights. Their situation is not perfect. I am glad that they have a television series where they are the stars.
President Carter’s book title is not the least bit misleading.
Worse Than Apartheid
Israel and the apartheid analogy
Richard Silverstein says
For the life of me I don’t understand how anyone can make a negative judgement about a book they haven’t read. If you want to criticize the book having read it I can understand that. But you clearly haven’t & are basing yr judgment on criticism by others who may or may not have read it themselves.
Comparing the Occupation to Apartheid is certainly legitimate & a comparison made regularly in the Israeli mainstream press.
I don’t think you know much about what Israelis think. Do they want peace? Yes. More than the want the Territories? Not necessarily. They don’t believe peace is possible so they believe in holding onto the Territories in the meantime. That’s simply an untenable proposition. To get peace you give up the Territories. You don’t get one w/o giving up the other.
You believe in national determination as long as it’s not inconvenient to Israel’s perceived interests. BUt when it does conflict w. them, they you’re not really in favor of determination. At least not for Palestinians. So your view isn’t so “universal.” I’d call it “selective.”
So the problems the Palestinians face have nothing to do with the Occupation & everything to do w. those bad Arabs who surround Israel? Really. You drip w. noblesse oblige towards the Palestinians: if only they wouldn’t choose that dreadful Hamas or those corrupt Fatah men. Just think what a wonderful world it could be.
The Israeli Arabs are the least free of Israel’s citizens. Learn something about real conditions faced by real Israeli Arabs before you go around tooting Israel’s horn via its supposedly generous treatment of its Arab citizens.
Sara Hassan says
I saw episode 3. It was fantastic. I always seeked out active friendship with Jews though I am muslim myself. I think amidst the much political tensions between both sides, this show provides an appealing comic relief. For those who didnt watch the show yet, intuitions will fail your judgements. I think you should watch it first, then comment. Shalom and Salaam wa Alaikum.