A young Arab woman on a propaganda delegation to the United States sparks a storm in the Arab world with an interview in which she praises Israel’s democracy, which she says liberates Arab women from their primitive society, and which 90 percent of Arabs pray to live under.
Dema Taya is a young Arab Muslim woman from the village of Qalansuwa in central Israel, who recently traveled to the United States as part of a delegation belonging to the Israeli hasbara group, “Reservists on Duty.” An interview with Taya on the Arabic television channel Musawa has more than two million views and led to a barrage of responses, parodies, and discussions in Israel and across the world.
The interview made its way to the Arab world as well and a longer, well-edited version found a home on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official Facebook page. Right-wing websites called to rally support for Taya, while Arab sites ridiculed her in every possible way.
So what is this young woman’s story, and why did her interview arouse such anger?
Taya is one of six people chosen to represent Israel on a 12-campus tour across the United States. The main goal of the tour was to combat BDS, bring about a change in the way students think about Israel, and prove that it is not an apartheid state. A young, sweet Arab woman who praises the state is a good way to whitewash the occupation and the racism that so bothers American Jewish liberals.
I am not sure Taya regrets the interview, in which she made every possible mistake — from her choice of words to actually knowing the facts, including about the Arab world and Arab society. If that were not enough, she also made a few mistakes in her native language, leaving no room for doubt that she learned to recite a few key sentences, the kind we hear from every Jewish Israeli who takes part in hasbara.
‘I don’t talk politics’
Taya insisted on telling the interviewer, Ramzi Hakim, that she was not there to talk politics. The Arab minority in Israel has nothing to do with politics, she said, “I don’t care about occupation and the territories.” Apparently, as long as there is work for Arabs as doctors, lawyers, and teachers — Israel is a democracy. Arabs have the right to vote, that’s enough. Taya is a member of the Zionist enterprise dream team, traveling the world to speak out against boycotts and in favor of true democracy in Israel, yet she does not believe she is talking politics.
Her stern response to the question of whether Israeli is an apartheid state makes me think that perhaps she was told that apartheid is some kind of disease, or at the very least something akin to slavery or genocide. “No! Israel is not an apartheid state, and anyone who says Israel is apartheid ought to be ashamed of himself!” she yelled. “So if there is no occupation in the territories, can you explain where the borders of the state are?” asked Hakim. “Again, I won’t talk politics. I am an Arab Muslim who represents the Muslim minority in the State of Israel.” No less.
It is unclear how long Arabs here have defined themselves as a Muslim minority. After all, if Taya does not represent Arabs, then all this talk about religion and being a minority is meant to target Americans, who are fascinated by this thing called “Islam.” The government’s divide-and-conquer policies vis-a-vis Christians, Druze, and Palestinian Muslims were apparent in each and every one of her sentences. The delegation is made up of Taya, a Bedouin soldier, a Druze soldier, a Christian from an ex-Southern Lebanon Army family, and a young man from the village Iksal whose family has essentially excommunicated him for his views.
Taya’s interview revealed the laundry list of questions drawn up for her by the Foreign Ministry or Reservists on Duty — questions that may arise when speaking before crowds in the United States, and which she must be able to answer quickly and decisively.
For example, she was asked about the racist laws passed by the Knesset, which target Israel’s Arab population. Her response: “Nothing is perfect or 100 percent, go look at what’s happening in the Arab world. Israel is perfectly fine, relatively speaking. And show me an Arab country that allows criticism of the regime.”
“I will not defend democracy in the Arab world,” Hakim responded, “there is democracy in Lebanon, what do you think about that?” Taya answered: “Show me where. I hope that not a single Arab ever rules over another Arab.”
Yes, dear Dema. Arabs really want the Jews to rule over us, we want the Russians and the Iranians and the Turks to rule Syria, the Americans to rule Iraq, and maybe we can even bring back the British Mandate? Taya also claimed that 90 percent of Arabs around the world pray to live under a regime like that of Israel. God knows where she got this kind of statistic.
It is no wonder that Taya represents the perfect Arab Zionist, the kind with whom Israeli Jews can “coexist.” She is a paragon of the appreciative Arab, who praises Zionist leaders and thanks God that he is entitled to national insurance. Why bring researchers, philosophers, intellectuals, artists, or activists from Arab society to discuss these issues when we have these six young people who have been handpicked by the state?
Despite the harsh responses to the interview, I thought Taya got what she deserved, and I am proud to say that not a single call was made to harm her. Truthfully, most of the respondents felt sorry for her. What angered me was the fact that the video below, put out by Reservists on Duty, made the rounds in English. In it, Taya puts forth so-called feminist arguments according to which Israel freed Arab women from the oppression and primitivity, and “if you believe in women’s rights you should support Israel.”
Take a look inside
Taya lacks all experience in research, writing, or activism relating to the status of women, so how dare she strip Arab women of the successes they have gained under the Israeli regime while chalking them up to the state?
Palestinian women have been fighting against the state for gender equality for 70 years — including in their own society — and they succeed despite Israel, not because of it. Not all Arab women receive the state’s bear hug. Why did Taya, before boarding the flight to America, not think about the women whose homes were demolished in Qalansuwa, her hometown, earlier this year? A city that drowns in rain every winter, which lacks basic infrastructure, as opposed to its neighboring Jewish towns? How many kindergartens does neighboring Kochav Yair have? And why can’t she as an Arab buy a membership for the town pool?
How many killers of Arab women walk free because of a system that views us as unequal to Jewish women? How many thousands of educated Arab women are unemployed in Israel’s racist labor market? And how many women have been discriminated against for wearing a hijab?
Before you fly again, dear Dema, take a deep look inside, or at least go out and learn a little bit more about the reality experienced by the majority of women who live here. Then you can go on television and tell everyone in broken English how Israel freed you from primitivity and let you blossom.
This post was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.