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'Arab Work' a new Israeli comedy

By John Rickman     Dec 15, 2007 in Entertainment
"Arab Work" a new Israeli comedy on prime time television, which takes a hard look at the plight of an Arab-Israeli family struggling to assimilate in the Jewish nation, has surprised critics by becoming an early hit.
The lead charter is Amjad, an Israeli citizen of Arab decent, who works as a journalist and desperately tries to fit in to his predominantly Jewish surroundings.
Some of his comic attempts include wearing a yarmulke when he takes his family to a Jewish Seder or teaching his daughter Passover songs. In order to avoid the brutal attention of checkpoint guards he trades in his beat up old Subaru for more expensive "non-Arab car.
"Arab Work," which debuted in November, has so far been a hit with the first two episodes drawing 22% of the audience for its time slot, a feat that placed it in the top ten shows of the season. A second season is already planned.
The show uses humor to explore the problems of Arabs living in a Jewish state and to challenge the predominate Israeli image of Arabs, an image which is extremely negative, even of Arab citizens of Israel.
A recently released report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel found that anti-Arab feelings are so severe that 75% of Jewish Israelis say that they would not live in a building with Arab neighbors and half polled say they would not even allow an Arab into their houses. At a time when the number of racist incidents perpetrated by Israels against the captive population of Arabs has increased by 26% the show uses slapstick humor in an effort to poke fun at both sides in this deadly and divisive conflict.
Although 20% of the citizens of Israel are Arabs a recent study found that Israeli networks, including Channel 2 the one on which the show airs, hire almost no Arab-Israelis and news programs only devote about 1% of their coverage to stories of concern to Arab-Israelis. When Arabs do appear on the news they are almost always shown as violent or threatening. This is the image that "Arab Work" seeks to challenge.
Vered Livne, executive director of Agenda, an Israeli media strategy firm said about the program:
“It’s not perfect, but under the right circumstances it can be for Israeli-Arabs what ‘The Cosby Show’ was for blacks in America. It has a chance to lower the barriers that Israeli Jews put up when they hear an Arab voice.”
Ever since the founding of Israel in 1948 the Arabs who live within the pre-1967 borders have held a sort of second class citizenship, being denied many rights that their fellow citizens of Jewish origins take for granted and facing wide spread discrimination a condition not likely to change any time soon since half the Jewish population feel they should not be given equal rights.
Danny Paran, producer and co-creator of "Arab Work" said:
“I thought it was time to take this conflict into prime time and laugh about it. We are both here, and it’s an extreme conflict — basically fantastic material for a television show.”
Although Paran sees the show as a positive step many Arab-Israelis have a different view of the show comparing it not to the Cosby show but rather to the 1950's “Amos ’n’ Andy" show which featured many racist stereotypes.
Norman Issa, an Arab-Israeli and the lead character takes a different view of the show:
“It’s a comedy. It’s not a documentary. I believe that comedy can change people, change their opinions. Hopefully it will change something, so that people will be able to talk a little bit and not fight all the time.”
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