Saudi TV show for Ramadan sparks outrage with Hebrew opening monologue

The series covers the relations between Jews and Muslims in 1940s Kuwait, but has brought forth accusations against Saudi Arabia of normalizing ties with Israel.

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
A new Saudi Arabian TV series sparked a storm of controversy among Gulf states as the opening monologue of the first episode was spoken in Hebrew, N12 has reported.
The series, Umm Haroun – meaning Mother of Aaron – which deals with relations between Muslims and Jews in 1940s Kuwait, premiered during Ramadan – the most sacred month in the Islamic calendar. 
Many new TV series debut during Ramadan as people are spending time fasting. This year many of the shows were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Umm Haroun had already been filmed beforehand and was thus not affected by the cancellations, N12 reported.
"Before our footsteps go missing and our lives fall into memory, we will be lost to time," a Jewish character says in the opening monologue. "We are the Gulf Jews who were born in the Gulf lands," she declares.
The series was made by Saudi Arabia's state-owned channel MBC, the most popular TV channel in the Arab world, and boasts a star-studded cast of Saudi and Kuwaiti actors including the famous Kuwaiti actress Hayat al-Fahd, 71, who plays the titular mother of Aaron.
However, the show's promotional material had already provoked accusations from the Arab world that Saudi Arabia is engaging in normalization with Israel, thanks to the subject matter.
Traditionally, programs about Jews in the Arab world tend to be set primarily in Egypt and Syria. According to N12, though, the focus on the Jews of Kuwait and their relations with their Muslim neighbors is a new sight for Arab television.
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.
Several critics took to social media when some of the initial promotional materials were released 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?”
Even Hamas weighed in on the controversy, denouncing the series as a “political and cultural attempt to introduce the Zionist project to Gulf society.”
According to N12, many believe Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is involved in the series, as the prince is interested in closer relations between the kingdom and Israel and could be signaling this intent to the Arab world through the series.
However, the backlash was not universal among the Arab world.
“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,” Yousef al-Mutairi, professor of modern and contemporary history at Kuwait University, told
“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.”
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.