Readers outside Israel may perhaps not be familiar with the work of journalist and author Sayed Kashua who was born in Tira but now lives in Ramat Denya in Jerusalem. Having studied sociology and philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Kashua went on to become a journalist, at present writing a weekly column for Ha’aretz, and is the author of several highly acclaimed novels (in Hebrew) which have been translated into a number of foreign languages. He won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Hebrew Writers in 2005 and the Kugel Prize for Literature and the Bernstein Prize for an original Hebrew novel in 2011. Kashua is also the writer of the popular television series ‘Avuda Aravit‘ (Arab Labour) – winner of the award for the best television series at the Jerusalem Film Festival – which was first broadcast on Channel 2 in 2007 and takes a humoristic and satirical look at Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.
On March 1st 2013 the BBC World Service’s daily arts programme ‘The Strand’ interviewed Sayed Kashua about his latest novel – available for listening here.
The short interview is particularly interesting due to the fact that whilst the interviewer Harriett Gilbert is talking to an acclaimed author who in much of his subject matter deals in dismantling the stereotypes which exist in different sectors of Israeli society, she appears to be intent upon using the interview to entrench her own stigmas and stereotypes relating to that society.
At one point, for example, Gilbert refers to “Yonatan’s Jewish ID card” – implying (wrongly) that Israeli Jews carry a different Identity Card to Israeli non-Jews. Later she refers to “Israeli prejudice and discrimination” – by which she clearly means Israeli Jews – as though this were some kind of universal national characteristic. In one particular section of the interview Gilbert says:
“What’s interesting in the novel though, Sayed Kashua, is that as well as having very practical reasons for wanting to pass as a Jewish Israeli, one of your characters in particular – the lawyer – seems to be rather seduced by the whole idea of being…like…Jewish people; having the same culture; he wants to adopt the Jewish culture. Is there something you’re talking about here which happens a lot with the oppressed minorities? Is it that they begin to think that maybe the oppressor is actually better than them in some way?”
Gilbert’s facile categorisation of Israeli society into “the (Arab) oppressed minorities” and (Jewish) “oppressors” could be taken straight out of the Socialist Workers Party handbook and of course does nothing to contribute to her listeners’ understanding of the intricacies of the rich tapestry of Israeli society.
The antiquated notion that no matter how successful a writer, lawyer, doctor or entrepreneur of Arab heritage may be in a multi-cultural democracy which affords equal rights under the law to all its citizens, he or she remains “oppressed” purely on the basis of ethnic background, is clearly as disconnected from reality as the concurrent suggestion that an illiterate fifty five year-old female immigrant from Ethiopia who works in a food packing plant in a development town is the “oppressor” purely by virtue of the fact that she is Jewish.
If the BBC really does aspire to inform its audiences about Israeli society, its journalists and presenters first need to abandon their own politically inspired stereotypes and stigmas relating to both Arabs and Jews in that country.