1 Minute, 25 Seconds that Just Might Change the Middle East
The month of Ramadan ushers in for the world’s 2 billion Muslims a period of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting with family and friends. Understandably, such staggering numbers inevitably attract the intense interest of advertisers, opinion shapers and TV and film producers.
Those of us concerned about anti-Semitism and the demonization of Jews, Judaism and Israel in the Arab and Muslim world gird ourselves each Ramadan, paying attention to negative themes that find their way into high-end films, documentaries, mini-series and even soap operas.
Take this year for example.
Many of us were surprised but not shocked when Egyptian TV presented The End – you guessed it, the coming end of Israel (don’t worry, not scheduled until around 2048). In it, students are told that Israel was destroyed, Jerusalem/Al-Quds was liberated and that, according to the teacher, “most Jews ran away and returned to their countries of origin in Europe.”
The writer said that in the absence of peace, Israel could disappear in the future.
The series, produced by a company with strong ties to the El-Sisi government, passed muster with official censors. An alarmed Israeli foreign minister protested to the country’s peace partner – which might account for the first episode being removed from YouTube.
Back in 2003, Syrian Television produced a package for Ramadan that was broadcast by Hizbullah’s Al Manar satellite TV. What better way to bolster one’s credentials with Arab viewers than present a 30-part series, Al-Shatat (Diaspora), “recording the criminal history of Zionism” from 1812 to 1948.
Depicted was a “global Jewish government” à la “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” graphically showing Jews carrying out acts of torture and plotting to secretly dispose of the body of a community member.
The series must have deeply resonated with regimes and audiences. Its impressive shelf life included broadcast on two Iranian TV stations in 2004, on Jordan’s Al-Mamnou TV in 2005, and on Iran’s Sahar TV in 2009.
Meanwhile, Egyptian TV picked up on these themes and depicted a notorious blood libel – Jews slaughtering a Christian child to use his blood for Passover matzah in the notorious Horseman without a Horse, a 30-part miniseries broadcast in 2002 and again in 2014.
Some of the scenes in these series were so lurid that the European Eutelsat satellite eventually banned Al Manar, and France pulled the plug on Sahar.
I’ll spare you more gory details about all the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic Ramadan TV fare, but collectively, it gives you an inkling of the bombshell that has been unleashed this year on Ramadan by Saudi Arabia’s Dubai-based MBC TV.
Exit 7 is a comedic series. It explores the rapid changes taking place in today’s Saudi Arabia through a bumbling father figure trying to adapt. In one controversial episode, he discovers his son, Zaid, has befriended an Israeli through an online game.
A close friend of mine from the Gulf sent me a 1-minute, 25-second clip from the show. It has the potential to break every meticulously forged stereotype about Jews and how Arabs should treat them. Incredibly, to bring home a message that the times they are a changin’, it is subtitled in Hebrew!
Here’s my loose translation of the dialogue between two middle-aged men. The dialogue in bold is the main character, the father of the boy. The clip, in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles, appears below.
What is Israel?
What do you mean? Israel exists whether you want it or not.
Strange, this is new talk coming from you!
No, it’s not new. It’s always existed. Just that there wasn’t an opportunity to say it before….
(Third middle-aged man) Y’alla, teach us what you know!
What I am saying is what struck us Arabs all these years has been the Palestinian matter, habibi! All of these words without any results. Do you think you will stop Zaid from playing with his Israeli friend? … You think Israel is going to disappear? You are mistaken.
Israel in the end will disappear sooner or later!
Sure. Since we were children, we’ve been hearing this and, in the end, it’s been Arab countries, one after another, that are falling! Meanwhile, Israel remains in place and nothing has happened to it!
We want to explain to the child that Israel is our enemy, and then you come along and say we have to do business with it?
An enemy is one who doesn’t appreciate or respect you when you are standing next to him, who curses you day and night, more than the Israelis!
What do mean?
I mean throughout our lives, we have been for the Palestinian nation…. We entered wars on behalf of the Palestinian nation…. We cut off oil exports for the Palestinian nation…. After they set up the Palestinian Authority, we paid their salaries – we need those funds more than they do! And they wait for the smallest opportunity to attack Saudi Arabia!
Renowned Israeli journalist and commentator Ehud Ya’ari, who himself has helped to dismantle barriers between Arabs and Israelis, underscored the powerful moment that has been reached.
“Everyone in the Arab world watches MBC TV,” Ya’ari told me. “We are talking potentially of tens of millions of viewers! MBC-TV is on a significant campaign via this drama series to validate ties with Jews and Israelis!”
Can one or two series touting normalized relations with Jews and Israel really threaten to topple the status quo? The PFLP thinks so.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine condemned Exit 7 as “an instigation campaign and discourse of hatred targeting the Palestinian people…. The Saudi channel is calling for normalization with the occupation’s image while demonizing Palestinians.”
In fact, Exit 7 (and the Kuwaiti Umm Haroun, another Ramadan presentation that includes a Jewish character) has a message for three audiences.
For young Gulf Arabs: It’s okay to seek out normal contacts and relationships with Jews and Israelis.
For Palestinians: Enough already. No more gravy train, no more rubber-stamping of anti-Israel campaigns. Make your best deal or be left behind.
For Jews and Israelis: Out with the hate. Let’s make a deal.
Let’s hope the right people are listening.