March 25, 2011

The Non-Existence Of, Uh, Me*

Or, words you can't say on Arabic television.

I can't believe I'm writing about this topic again, but I just saw the most bizarre thing on television today.

Here I am, on my day off, watching Glee (a rerun) on Fox. We have lots of Western TV shows here, most a season behind unless you buy the premium channels.

Anyway, there's a scene where Rachel is trying to tell Quinn that Finn is not the father of her baby. A little background for those of you who don't watch. Quinn was president of the chastity club, so Finn was a little surprised by the pregnancy since they never had sex. She attributed it to "that time in the hot tub". In fact, she cheated on him with his best friend, Noah Puckerman.

So Rachel goes up to Quinn and "innocently" tells her the story of her uncles or whoever having a baby and needing to get it tested for Tay Sachs, and surely Quinn had done that, right? Quinn has no idea what she is talking about, and Rachel says: "Oh, silly me. It's only a problem if one of the parents is (SILENCE)."

Uh, OK. Jewish was just erased as a swear word would be on this station. I'm a bit baffled.

In the next scene, Quinn is talking to Puck and says "We need to get an appointmen to test for that (SILENCE) disease."

Are you kidding me? We don't say the word Jewish on the television? On a Western show? I have gotten used to the idea Israel does not exist on any maps in the UAE (I don't like it, but I accept it -- the Emirates do not recognize them as a country), but it's one thing to deny the existence of a country and another to deny the existence of an entire religion.

Is it like Beetlejuice, where if you say it three times fast something bad will happen?


Update: Next episode, “Yeah, she looked like Pippi Longstocking, but, like, Israeli.” Only Israeli was bleeped. I'm sensing a pattern.

March 23, 2011

Politically Correct?

I thought hard before writing this, and the words don't come easily. I've written and erased at least four sentences so far. Do I really want to write this down?

Living in the Middle East has its challenges, and as a woman -- and a Jewish woman -- I've felt the need to occasionally keep a low profile. I didn't really expect to have to do it in the workplace, however.

My colleagues are, almost overwhelmingly, anti-Israel. My newspaper most definitely is. It's difficult to be in the middle of all of it, and I never say a word. Talking about Israel in this environment is like talking about abortion in the US. It will just get ugly and nothing you can say will change anyone's mind.

Yet it is impossible to escape. I sit near the editorial team -- hardcore pro-Palestinian folks. I don't think they are two-state solution people, either, although I may be wrong. I've stopped listening because, frankly, it makes me ill. Paul says now I know what it's like being the only Republican in a Democratic profession. I suppose, sort of. But this goes much deeper. And it is relentless.

I am not a hard-core "Zionist," but I wanted nothing more in college than to spend a year abroad in Israel. I believe Israel has the right to exist, obviously. I think there should be a two-state solution. I don't support the crazy settlers, and I think at times both sides are equally insane. I think peace is necessary but I'm not sure it's possible. Above all, I do not believe it is a black and white issue.

I also have colleagues who do not believe any of this. American colleagues, British colleagues especially.

I am careful how much I reveal about my religion to most people; my colleagues with an Arab background seem to be the most tolerant. I work closely with two women who are of Palestinian descent. An Egyptian who sits nearby knows, but only because we've talked about Halal vs Kosher. I don't think any of them have a problem with me.

Then, yesterday, a colleague was telling me about a book he was reading: From Beirut to Jerusalem. He seemed surprised to find it was objective. He wanted to recommend it, but he couldn't think of the author. Some Jew, he said. Another chimed in, yeah, a Jewish name.
It was the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, one of the best-known columnists in the US.

Some Jew? Seriously?

Today, he called across the desk to chat with me. That's what we do in the newsroom, make observations, talk about the news, whatever. But he said (and I am paraphrasing here because I was a. stunned at what he said and b. stunned that he assumed I would agree) "I can't believe the Israelis are shelling Gaza like this. The Israelis are awful. They're so craven. I hate them."

I should have said "Colleague, I'm not the best person to talk to about this." Instead, I said nothing. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to get into it. I have to listen to the anti-Israel stuff all day long. I have to make an effort not to read it in my newspaper. In this neck of the woods, Israel is responsible for all the world's evils. And I have to wonder, if you're anti-Israel, are you anti-Jew? Does it come into play? Can you separate the two?

I've decided I will speak up the next time it happens -- and it will happen again. I hope my colleague will have the good grace to be embarrassed, at the very least.

But sometimes, I find it hard to live here.