Arab series depicting Jewish life in Gulf sparks outrage

Hamas has also weighed in on the controversy, denouncing the series as a “political and cultural attempt to introduce the Zionist project to Gulf society.”

A poster for a new series produced by the Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC (photo credit: MIDDLE EAST BROADCASTING CENTER (MBC))
A poster for a new series produced by the Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC
(photo credit: MIDDLE EAST BROADCASTING CENTER (MBC))
A new series produced by the Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) about the life of Jews in the Gulf has sparked outrage in the Arab world.
Critics argue that the series comes in the context of attempts by some Gulf states to promote normalization with Israel.
The controversial series – expected to be broadcast during Ramadan, which begins next week –  focuses on the life of a Jewish woman as a social outcast in the Gulf because of her religion.
Renowned Kuwaiti actress Hayat al-Fahad, 71, plays the role of a Jewish midwife and nurse in the series, called Umm Haroun. The woman, of Turkish origin, moves between Iran and Iraq before settling in the Gulf state of Bahrain, where she worked for many years.
Al-Fahad (Arabic for leopard) recently caused outrage by suggesting that expatriates should be deported from Kuwait amid the coronavirus pandemic. She warned that Kuwaiti hospitals could be overwhelmed by foreign nationals suffering from the deadly disease and suggested they should be “sent out” or “put in the desert.”
A promotional video released by MBC says the series deals with the social relations that prevailed between Muslims and Jews in Kuwait during the 1940s. According to some historians, some 200 Jewish families lived in Kuwait during those years.
Directed by Egypt’s Mohammed al-Adl, the series, filmed in the United Arab Emirates, features a number of Kuwaiti and Saudi actors.
The series, titled Life of a Leopard, has angered many Arabs, who are demanding that MBC refrain from broadcasting the series on the pretext that it’s a “form of normalization with the Zionist entity [Israel].” Others have launched an online campaign calling for boycotting the series.
Several critics took to social media to express their outrage over the series, claiming it portrays Jews as suffering from “injustices” in an Arab country.
“We have many successful and heroic women in the Gulf,” protested Hana al-Qahtan. “Why do we need to turn a Jewish woman into a hero in our dramas?”
Ahmed Madani said on Twitter that he, too, does not understand why an Arab television channel would broadcast a series about a Jewish woman during Ramadan. “Would Israel ever produce a series about a Muslim woman in its prisons?” he asked. “What about the injustices done to the Palestinians? Why not produce a documentary about the suffering of Palestinians?”
Hamas has also weighed in on the controversy, denouncing the series as a “political and cultural attempt to introduce the Zionist project to Gulf society.”
The character of Umm Haroun reminds me of [former Israeli Prime Minister] Golda Meir, the head of the occupation government, who was a murderous criminal,” said senior Hamas official Ra’fat Murra. “This is the goal of normalization: hatred, slow killing and internal destruction. The series aims to falsify history and gradually introduce Gulf society to normalization with the Zionist occupation, at a time when some [Arab] rulers are panting to build close ties with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to protect their thrones.”
Yousef al-Mutairi, professor of modern and contemporary history at Kuwait University, told Al-Jazeera.net that the controversy over the series was unjustified.
“Arab Jews are part of our history, whether in Egypt or in the Arab Peninsula, and this does not contradict our assertion that they were not expelled from the Gulf,” he said. “The expulsion took place for individuals who were engaged in activities that the society was not satisfied with, such as trading in alcohol. We must differentiate between Zionism and Judaism. Israel and those living in it are Zionists. But there’s no problem with Judaism.”


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