Israeli diversity beats everything

While Arab children in Ramallah over and over again have to watch small Arab children reciting hate speeches against Israel and Jews on Palestinian TV, Israeli children, both Arab and Jewish, watch George Abu Shkara, an Israeli Arab singer singing about peace in Arabic on prime time TV in Israel.

For the past weeks I have been enthusiastically glued to some of the prime time Israeli TV-shows like Ha Kochav Haba (The Israeli version of American Idol) and X-factor, Israeli TV-shows where Israelis from all over the Israeli society compete. People of all colors, people born in Israel and people who just immigrated, young and old talents – they all compete to win in the TV-shows. The focus in these TV-shows is not only on uniqueness in voice and musical diversity but also on the diversity of the people in Israel.

Diversity in Israeli media is not an exception but as mainstream as hate speeches are in the Palestinian Authority media and in Gaza. Earlier this year the Israeli version of the international success, the Voice was won by Lina Makhoul, an Israeli Arab student at the prestigious Israeli university Technion. In 2012 Israeli Arab singer Nashrin Qadri won the biggest mizrachi music show in Israel, Eyal Golan Kore Lecha (“Eyal Golan is calling you”). The Israeli singer Hagit Yaso of Ethiopian Jewish roots won the show Kochav Nolad in 2011. Israel was also the first country ever to feature a same-sex dance couple in the international concept “Dancing with Stars”, Rokdim Im Kochavim, in 2010 and before that Israeli Arab actor and singer, Mira Awad was close to winning the same show.

This autumn and winter Israeli viewers are getting the opportunity to be spared from images of stereotypes by getting to know the ultra-orthodox rabbi brothers Gat who sing wonderfully good old pop melodies by Simon and Garfunkel and the Eagles in Ha Kochav Haba. In the same show the audience is giving standing ovations to the Sudanese refugee Dondit John who sings beautifully in Hebrew and to George Abu Shkara, an Israeli Arab John Lennon, who in his song “Imagine” carries a message of peace and coexistence. In the Reshet TV-show X-factor that started two weeks ago, Rose, the Israeli equivalent to Susan Boyle, a Philippine guest worker since many years was recently declared to have the Israeli X-factor by the judges of the show.

In these TV-shows some of the best of Israeli thinking is expressed like when singer Rita as judge in Ha Kochav Haba proclaimed “I wish, Amen that this prayer that you sang will happen and come true and all of us  in this crazy world will finally realize that that we are all one, we are all one soul, Amen”, as the singer George Abu Shkara succeeded in  getting both the votes of the audience and the Israeli judges for his interpretation of Lennon’s Imagine. The same happened when the other judge, Rani Rahav, declared that he is proud to be Israeli because the audience voted for the Sudanese refugee Dondit John, and stated that that is also the beauty of Israeli democracy.

If I watch the Palestinian Authority’s media I get a glimpse of how the P A administrated society is like and it is not impressive. Watching Israeli TV-shows, movies, drama series and news also gives glimpses of the Israeli society. The same also goes for watching Swedish TV of course. Shows like The Israeli X-factor and Ha Kochav Haba really reflect the Israeli society of today: a diverse Jewish society and a diverse Israeli society that embraces its own diversity.

But how come Israel is such a diverse country, where does it all come from? This diversity of Israel is alive due to the fact that Israel is not only a democratic state, it is so because it is also a Jewish state. Democracy in Israel is possible since the Jewish tradition not only separates religious matters and secular matters but it also gives room for interpretation and different perspectives.That is why a Jewish state does not contradict Israel being a democratic state, on the contrary it is the prerequisite for it to be democratic.

Israel’s embracement of diversity is perhaps its greatest asset to counteract hate against the country. Because being open to diversity is a part of a culture that not only I but a majority of people in the Western World and people across the globe find really inspiring and attractive. Even if you would be a hard-core israelophobe you simply can not hate diversity. Well, maybe  you still could if you are in denial. But the majority of people are not in denial but rather in a state of not easily accessing the real Israel from outside. Many years of anti-Israeli propaganda have left wounds on the Western World. I think the cure against israelophobia is Israel itself and its natural asset, diversity.

According to a recent study in my country Sweden, 68% of Swedes have negative feelings towards Israel. However that doesn’t mean we can not change that condition given that we are many different voices in support of Israel who focus on change and given that the diversity of Israel is more accessible. How can it be more accessible? There are probably many ways. Why not, for a start, add more of subtitled translations when Israeli TV-shows and news are published on Youtube and similar platforms?

For the upcoming weeks I look forward to watching rapping Hebrew Israelites and rocking rabbis and I hope more people from outside Israel will join me in watching more of Israeli TV-shows.


About the Author
Tobias Petersson is a Swedish freelance writer who has focused on Israel and the MENA region. He came to Israel first in 2007 for a summer vacation and learned much. Soon after his return to Sweden he was suddenly aware of the anti-Israeli sentiments in his country and decided he wanted to change that. He has published articles about Israel in various Swedish and Israeli media to make the distance between Israel and Sweden less. Today Tobias is active in the Swedish pro-Israel network Perspektiv på Israel/Perspective on Israel.