Peace through TV: “Arab Labor” creator honored in San Francisco

San Francisco’s Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor called it “the best television we’ve produced in the last decade” and “the ultimate destruction of PC.” 

He’s talking about “Arab Labor,” the wildly popular and wickedly funny Israeli sit-com about an Arab-Israeli family trying to make their way in the Jewish state. 

The show’s creator, Israeli Arab novelist, screenwriter and Ha’aretz columnist Sayed Kashua, received the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression award July 28 in San Francisco, just prior to a screening of three episodes of Season 2 of his show. Two of those episodes have not yet aired in Israel, giving a few hundred lucky San Franciscans first crack at what is sure to raise eyebrows and generate a lot of ink back home. 

In English or Hebrew, Kashua is equally adept at delivering barbed hardballs disguised as the most innocent of jokes. Ambling up to the stage after Tor’s laudatory introduction, this first Arab recipient of the festival’s top creative honor appeared shamefaced as he told the crowd, “I prepared a speech against the Occupation, but the consul general of Israel was so nice—“

Nothing gentle about this guy, or his show. It’s smart as heck and illustrates, yet again, satire’s ability to tackle the most difficult topics without everyone coming to blows. 

Season 1 is available on DVD and Link-TV. The American rights to Season 2 are still being negotiated. Don’t miss “Remembrance,” episode 8 from Season 2, for a searing look at what Arab Israelis really think about Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. And this is on Channel 2, folks –network TV. 

If you want to know what it’s like for an Arab to try to open a bank account in Israel, check out his recent Ha’aretz column. You’ll wince as you laugh.

Two of Kashua’s three novels are available in English: Dancing Arabs and Let it be Morning. The originals are in Hebrew, the only language he writes — another irony of his life (his parents sent him to Jewish boarding school for a better education.) 

Here’s a recent interview, including clips from the show.

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