When Arab-Israeli singer Lina Makhoul won first place late last month on The Voice, the Israeli version of the talent competition show, it confirmed what many television viewers already knew: Israeli Arabs have an increasingly central role on the small screen.
Tellingly, The Voice is a competition in which the judges make the first cut in a blind audition, so it gives contestants a level playing field, at least at the very beginning. For the second round, though, the judges knew Makhoul’s identity and she sang a song in Arabic, which made a strong impression. For the final round, she performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
The 19-year-old from Acre, a biology student at the Technion, said she was equally comfortable with people who voted for her simply because they liked her singing and those who chose her because she was representing the Israeli-Arab sector.
But The Voice is far from the only show where Arab Israelis have played a prominent role recently.
In the recent Master Chef finale, Salma Fiyuma, a nurse and Alzheimer’s researcher from Kfar Kassem, was one of the two finalists. In the end, she lost to Tom Franz, a convert and observant Jew from Germany who now lives in Tel Aviv. In one of the final rounds, the contestants prepared a traditional Arab noodle dish.
Rapper Sameh Zakout (aka SAZ) from Ramle participated in the second season of the quasi-reality show Chai be La La Land, in which a group of Israeli singers live together in Los Angeles and compete for a record contract.
Israeli Arabs have participated on most Israeli reality shows, including Kohav Nolad (A Star Is Born), the Israeli version of American Idol and one of the most popular programs. Over the last decade, Israeli Arab contestants participated in and won Project Y and Israel’s Next Top Model, and they were very prominent contestants on Big Brother and other shows.
While Israeli Arabs, who represent approximately 20 percent of the country’s population, have been especially visible on reality TV shows – a reflection of Israel’s reality, clearly – they have been featured on dramatic shows as well.
Writer Sayed Kashua mined his life as a journalist as the basis for the series Avoda Aravit (Arab Labor). The popular show has been running for three seasons and won five prizes, including Best Comedy, Best Actor and Actress in a Comedy and Best Director when the Israel Academy for Television gave out its awards last January.
Kashua joked, “We get about 20 percent of the prizes, just like our percentage of the population.”
It’s interesting that many Israelis, who likely have little contact with Arabs in their daily lives (except for Arabs they meet who are in service jobs), are happy to sit down and watch television shows that star Arabs. While entertainment is certainly not going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these shows are an intriguing development.
It’s not only Arabs who are front and center on the small screen – it’s also Anglos. Andrea Simantov- Zaltzman and Ronny Zaltzman were recently selected as contestants on Hamerotz LaMillion, the Israeli version of The Amazing Race. Andrea is American, and Ronny is from South Africa. At 57 and 60, they are also the oldest couple to take part in the highly rated competition show, in which 11 couples run all over the world and complete difficult tasks in order to win NIS 1 million. Good luck, Andrea and Ronny, we Anglos will be pulling for you.
The Game of Thrones Season 2 premiere just aired in the US and got very positive reviews from fans. By the time this column appears, it will also have been shown here on YES Oh. It promises to be another addictive season of non-stop stabbings, betrayals, banter, aphorisms, torture, snow, sex and dragons, not necessarily in that order.
The Walking Dead just finished its US season, and the finale will air in Israel next week. While many plot threads are tied up – rather messily and with a fair amount of gore – the hardcore fan community gave the finale a thumbs-down. Well, there’s always next season.
And, drum roll please: The wait is almost over for Mad Men fans.
Season 6 begins airing in the US on April 7 – a two-hour episode – and will air on HOT 3 on April 13.
More on that next week!