Druze anchorwoman shatters Israel’s glass ceiling

Despite double-minority status, TV anchor Gadeer Mreeh defies stereotypes and bigotry.

By FELICE FRIEDSON/THE MEDIA LINE
November 18, 2018 10:29
Druze anchorwoman shatters Israel’s glass ceiling

Gadeer Mreeh (left) speaks to the writer.. (photo credit: TML PHOTO)

 
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The folks at the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation must have had concerns about seating Druze news anchor Gadeer Mreeh in a glass-paneled broadcast set given her propensity for shattering glass ceilings. Originally assigned to the Arabic desk, Mreeh herself was the story when she became the nation’s first non-Jewish woman to anchor the Hebrew news broadcast.

Wife and mother of two young children, Mreeh has overcome a daunting array of cultural, religious and political barriers to success.
Gadeer spoke with The Media Line about her journey and vision.

Gadeer, there are about eight million people in Israel;the Druze community is about 130,000 strong. Who are they?

140,000 exactly, about 2% of the Israeli population. We are an esoteric Arabic-speaking ethno-religious society. Our faith developed out of the Islamic Shia. There are something like 1.5 million Druze worldwide.We live in the Middle East, the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, even in South America. In Israel there are 16 Druze villages; including four in the Golan Heights. We believe that in separate villages, we can maintain our unique identity, which is very different than the Arab society. We have internal marriages – a Druze female must marry a Druze male. I met my husband in a Druze Internet chat room because I knew I needed to marry a
Druze guy.

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Is a career in the public eye with visibility to the masses something one would expect from your community?

In our religion we have equal rights for women and men; we are the only religion in which a woman can ask for and get a divorce without her husband’s approval. But socially speaking, there are still a lot of limits on women. For example, religious Druze women are not allowed to have a driver’s license, which is absurd. The religious leaders want to protect us from accidents and unexpected things, but we have made very good process toward equal rights.

Do you drive?

Yes, I drive. When I started to work in the media eight years ago, a religious member approached my parents and he told them that it is not appropriate for Druze women to work in the media, which requires long hours outside the home, sometimes even sleeping outside the home. Working with men, very high public exposure – he said that this is inappropriate and they put pressure on me. It was like a movie scene. It was a rainy day. I pulled my car over to the side of the road… and cried. I called my boss. I said, “Ayelet, I decided to quit.” She was shocked! She told me, “No, you are a success story and you have huge potential in the Israeli media. Don’t make any brutal decisions!” It took two weeks of rethinking my goals, my purpose, my achievements. What do I want to
do in my life? I decided to continue. Luckily, I have the full support of my parents and my husband.

How did you get started in broadcasting?

My mother remembers me as a child, sitting in front of the mirror and broadcasting news. I knew at a young age the huge power of this small screen and I knew that this is something that I wanted to do, but it wasn’t easy. People didn’t accept it even last year when there was the formal announcement of my appointment when I started to broadcast news also in Hebrew. I was the first non-Jewish woman to do that.

So, you broke a glass ceiling or two.

Yes, yes, another glass ceiling. I received thousands of blessings. People called me and were excited about my appointment. The spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, called me and I cried. He said, “I’m proud of you. You symbolize a Druze woman who tried and succeeded in her career while continuing to maintain your unique identity. It
sets a precedent.” People were shocked that he called me. I helped change the image of women; our religious leaders also understand that they can trust women, not just in career… maybe one day to drive.

Where did you start? You had to have been educated
in the field.

I have a BA in medical imaging from Bar-Ilan University and I have a master’s from the University of Haifa in international relations, where I specialized in negotiations and took practical courses. I finished everything with honors.

What would you consider your biggest break?


Being in the media as an anchorwoman. As an anchorwoman,I can set the agenda, influence, change things. Last September when there was a formal announcement in Saudi Arabia about granting women the right to obtain a driver’s license, I broadcasted it and discussed it with my colleagues – all of them Jewish men. I talked about the importance of the issue. When I participate in conferences, in panels, when I give lectures, I talk about the importance of self-fulfillment, the importance of equal rights and the challenges we face.

How did your family react when they saw you on television?

It was amazing. They saw that I did it and they were so proud. My mother is religious and it wasn’t easy for her at first. Also as a sound technician, I worked with men. I worked in a medical field and she said okay. They put pressure, but she said her daughter will study and achieve her goals and they are going to accept it. My father is a contractor and he was so proud of me. He always talked about my success and viewed it as a success story.

What does your success mean for the State of Israel?

It is a model of successful minority integration. I faced a lot of challenges. First, being a woman in a conservative and patriarchal society wasn’t easy. Second, you know I live in Daliat al-Carmel, which is in the periphery of northern Israel. When I finished at Reshet, for example, at Channel 2, I finished with honors and they gave me a scholarship to start to work with them.

I refused it. I was afraid to work in Tel Aviv and to travel every day from Daliat al-Carmel, but today I understand that in order to be in high positions in key companies, you need to be located in the center of Israel, so you need to travel. I faced the fear, the challenge of being a minority within a minority; being an Israeli citizen, but not Jewish; being an Arab, but not Muslim; being the successful career, liberal, Western woman and at the same time the simple woman who participates in traditional ceremonies, funerals and weddings or even asking my mother-in-law how to cook traditional dishes or Druze pita. Being a mix of all these factors it enriches my identity, expands my opportunities and helps me to deal with things differently. It is a model of a success story for women and minorities – [both] can be in high positions in the Israeli media.

Do Hebrew speakers expect you to champion Israeli issues? Do Arabic speakers expect you to champion Arab and Palestinian issues?


It depends how you look at this issue. In any news agency, you are loyal to your audience. You have to maintain your credibility. We have to reflect the reality in an objective way, a neutral way.

There are external influences, sometimes political, but you have to maintain your credibility. As a woman and as a Druze, I am in the middle. When my appointment was formally announced, I received blessings from both sides, from the right-wing Israeli community and from the neighboring areas, including Ramallah in the West Bank. I’m in the middle, but I need to separate. I’m not a Druze woman, I’m a journalist who must reflect reality as is, in a neutral way. I’m not Israeli or Palestinian; I’m a journalist.

Is there any topic that really bothers you that you feel doesn’t see the light of day here in covering stories in Israel?


Stories related to the Arab community. Last summer there was a child who was kidnapped by a crime family and no news agency opened the news with this item because he was Arab and his name was Karim Jumhour. He wasn’t a Jewish boy. If he were a Jewish boy, the media might cover his story 24/7. Sometimes, stories related to the Arab community are not reflected in the proper way in the Israel media.

Do you have impact in changing that?

Yes, of course, and this is what we do. We belong to the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, and we have our daily Arabic news and our Hebrew news. It means we broadcast from Israel, to Israel and the Middle East, but we concentrate on the stories of the local Arab people, society, their stories, the issues they are dealing with, because they are our audience, the local Arabic community.

Prejudice, bigotry, it exists on a global scale but how would you rate it in Israel?


The acceptance of me was amazing. People were thirsty for something else, for a new face on-screen. When I started to broadcast the Hebrew news, I was afraid and I talked to colleagues, Arieh Golan for example, a guru in Israeli media. He told me that Israeli society is thirsty for a new face. They understand the importance of journalism, of having people from different minorities. In globalization, everybody works with everybody. I have colleagues from other religions; we work together and this is our power. It means every reporter can look and think in a different way because we come from other communities. This enriches us as a
company, as a news media agency.

Should the Arab community become more politically active?

It depends. Sometimes people ask me why there are not more female or Arab journalists in the Israeli media. Sometimes I think there is a problem with the image of Arab society. We don’t dare to dream. We don’t work enough to overcome challenges. Sometimes, I see very smart females from my society who can work in any or Arab woman. So sometimes we should work harder in order to succeed, in order to integrate into Israeli society. But we can see that we are moving in the right direction.

The Druze are a success story of a minority in our integration into Israeli society. We have the highest percentage of people enlisting in the army, 80%, even higher than the Jewish community’s 74%. We have people holding very high-ranking positions in security units, in the IDF, the Prisons Service, in the Border Police. The coordinator of government activities in the territories is Druze. We have a Druze communications minister. Even women today, we have 1,000 Druze females who do national service, the maximum number of jobs that the state can offer. We are a success story of integration; the Arab community, or maybe the State of
Israel, could use us to its advantage to send a message to the other minorities.

Have you ever considered following other journalists into politics?


I never say never. Who knows where we will be in five years? We believe in destiny. Sometimes things are predestined. But maybe, yes, because as a politician you can influence more; you can set the agenda much more easily when you are in the political arena. Although this is a patriarchal atmosphere, look what happened [with the municipal and mayoral elections] – women in Israel made history in record numbers. Let’s say for argument’s sake, you take the plunge. Minority and woman, it’s an amazing combination.

What would be your first act as prime minister?


 I would seek an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but unfortunately, I don’t think that this will happen. There is a standstill today; there is no negotiation. We have a right-wing government, which prefers to keep the status quo, and the Palestinian leaders are not doing enough in order to seek peace. But who knows, maybe we could bridge this one day. Maybe US President Donald Trump will be the one to give us peace.

If you had to pick something that really needs more help in the Druze community, what would it
be?


To work on women, to strengthen women in my society. This is something that I take very seriously. This is something that I talk about in every conference and panel that I participate in. I started first to educate myself. I said to myself, I will start with myself as a woman. To educate myself, to educate my inner circle, my family, my partner, my children, my parents that women
have to get equal rights. Women who succeed in life, who enjoy self-fulfillment, will be better members of society. This is a win-win situation, a cycle of success in any society – not just in Druze society.


What would you consider your biggest break?

Being in the media as an anchorwoman. As an anchorwoman,I can set the agenda, influence, change things. Last September when there was a formal announcement in Saudi Arabia about granting women the right to obtain a driver’s license, I broadcasted it and discussed it with my colleagues – all of them Jewish men. I talked about the importance of the issue. When I participate in conferences, in panels, when I give lectures, I talk about the importance of self-fulfillment, the importance of equal rights and the challenges we face.

How did your family react when they saw you on television?

It was amazing. They saw that I did it and they were so proud. My mother is religious and it wasn’t easy for her at first. Also as a sound technician, I worked with men. I worked in a medical field and she said okay. They put pressure, but she said her daughter will study and achieve her goals and they are going to accept it. My father is a contractor and he was so proud of me. He always talked about my success and viewed it as a success story.

What does your success mean for the State of Israel?

It is a model of successful minority integration. I faced a lot of challenges. First, being a woman in a conservative and patriarchal society wasn’t easy. Second, you know I live in Daliat al-Carmel, which is in the periphery of northern Israel. When I finished at Reshet, for example, at Channel 2, I finished with honors and they gave me a scholarship to start to work with them.

I refused it. I was afraid to work in Tel Aviv and to travel every day from Daliat al-Carmel, but today I understand that in order to be in high positions in key companies, you need to be located in the center of Israel, so you need to travel. I faced the fear, the challenge of being a minority within a minority; being an Israeli citizen, but not Jewish; being an Arab, but not Muslim; being the successful career, liberal, Western woman and at the same time the simple woman who participates in traditional ceremonies, funerals and weddings or even asking my mother-in-law how to cook traditional dishes or Druze pita. Being a mix of all these factors it enriches my identity, expands my opportunities and helps me to deal with things differently. It is a model of a success story for women and minorities – [both] can be in high positions in the Israeli media.

Do Hebrew speakers expect you to champion Israeli issues? Do Arabic speakers expect you to champion Arab and Palestinian issues?


It depends how you look at this issue. In any news agency, you are loyal to your audience. You have to maintain your credibility. We have to reflect the reality in an objective way, a neutral way.

There are external influences, sometimes political, but you have to maintain your credibility. As a woman and as a Druze, I am in the middle. When my appointment was formally announced, I received blessings from both sides, from the right-wing Israeli community and from the neighboring areas, including Ramallah in the West Bank. I’m in the middle, but I need to separate. I’m not a Druze woman, I’m a journalist who must reflect reality as is, in a neutral way. I’m not Israeli or Palestinian; I’m a journalist.

Is there any topic that really bothers you that you feel doesn’t see the light of day here in covering stories in Israel?


Stories related to the Arab community. Last summer there was a child who was kidnapped by a crime family and no news agency opened the news with this item because he was Arab and his name was Karim Jumhour. He wasn’t a Jewish boy. If he were a Jewish boy, the media might cover his story 24/7. Sometimes, stories related to the Arab community are not reflected in the proper way in the Israel media.

Do you have impact in changing that?


Yes, of course, and this is what we do. We belong to the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, and we have our daily Arabic news and our Hebrew news. It means we broadcast from Israel, to Israel and the Middle East, but we concentrate on the stories of the local Arab people, society, their stories, the issues they are dealing with, because they are our audience, the local Arabic community.

Prejudice, bigotry, it exists on a global scale but how would you rate it in Israel?

The acceptance of me was amazing. People were thirsty for something else, for a new face on-screen. When I started to broadcast the Hebrew news, I was afraid and I talked to colleagues, Arieh Golan for example, a guru in Israeli media. He told me that Israeli society is thirsty for a new face. They understand the importance of journalism, of having people from different minorities. In globalization, everybody works with everybody. I have colleagues from other religions; we work together and this is our power. It means every reporter can look and think in a different way because we come from other communities. This enriches us as a company, as a news media agency.

Should the Arab community become more politically active?

It depends. Sometimes people ask me why there are not more female or Arab journalists in the Israeli media. Sometimes I think there is a problem with the image of Arab society. We don’t dare to dream. We don’t work enough to overcome challenges. Sometimes, I see very smart females from my society who can work inany or Arab woman. So sometimes we should work harder in order to succeed, in order to integrate into Israeli society. But we can see that we are moving in the right direction.

The Druze are a success story of a minority in our integration into Israeli society. We have the highest percentage of people enlisting in the army, 80%, even higher than the Jewish community’s 74%. We have people holding very high-ranking positions in security units, in the IDF, the Prisons Service, in the Border Police. The coordinator of government activities in the territories is Druze. We have a Druze communications minister. Even women today, we have 1,000 Druze females who do national service, the maximum number of jobs that the state can offer. We are a success story of integration; the Arab community, or maybe the State of Israel, could use us to its advantage to send a message to the other minorities.

Have you ever considered following other journalists into politics?

I never say never. Who knows where we will be in five years? We believe in destiny. Sometimes things are predestined. But maybe, yes, because as a politician you can influence more; you can set the agenda much more easily when you are in the political arena. Although this is a patriarchal atmosphere, look what happened [with the municipal and mayoral elections] – women in Israel made history in record numbers.

Let’s say for argument’s sake, you take the plunge. Minority and woman, it’s an amazing combination. What would be your first act as prime minister?

I would seek an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but unfortunately, I don’t think that this will happen. There is a standstill today; there is no negotiation. We have a right-wing government, which prefers to keep the status quo, and the Palestinian leaders are not doing enough in order to seek peace. But who knows, maybe we could bridge this one day. Maybe US President Donald Trump will be the one to give us peace.

If you had to pick something that really needs more help in the Druze community, what would it
be?


To work on women, to strengthen women in my society. This is something that I take very seriously. This is something that I talk about in every conference and panel that I participate in. I started first to educate myself. I said to myself, I will start with myself as a woman. To educate myself, to educate my inner circle, my family, my partner, my children, my parents that women have to get equal rights. Women who succeed in life, who enjoy self-fulfillment, will be better members of society. This is a win-win situation, a cycle of success in any society – not just in Druze society.

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