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The young Arab women on Israel's hasbara dream team

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.

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    1. JeffB

      We don’t see Israeli-Arabs sneakily finding ways to scale to get over the Israeli-Lebanon separation fence to escape totalitarian Israel and make it to freedom in Syria. We know from statistics that Israeli-Arabs don’t want to be part of the Palestinian polity. The situation is far more nuanced then what’s presented in the west by BDS linked groups. It is much more like say Quebec. Quebecois have issues with English Canada. “Independence” falls just short of a majority while being “a separate country” falls far short, whatever that distinction means to them. Israel has made a good faith, though imperfect, effort at integrating the Israeli-Arabs. Were it the case that there simply was blanket condemnation that Israeli-Arabs hated Israel and hated being Israeli then that would be a far darker message.

      I also think this is healthy for Israeli-Arabs to have spokespeople who represent their views. Let’s have a more serious conversation that isn’t demonizing. That exaggerate the situation beyond all reason. That reflects the reality that exist. Imagine for a moment that the BDS movement’s critique of Israel were true. Israel were a thoroughly racist society and getting worse. Israelis are completely unable to listen to facts or evidence that contradicts their views. Israelis society is militarized to the core, all pretensions of desiring peace are just propaganda and don’t reflect the views of Israelis in the slightest. Israeli is going to become a full blown fascist totalitarian dictatorship, and do so with strong support from the Jewish population that has no desire to live under a democracy anymore. Under those circumstances BDS would be totally ineffective, it might even be welcome. Cultural isolation would cut their society free from Western Liberal pollution of the totalitarian ethos. Economic isolation would allow them to develop separate industries in all spheres. Political isolation would remove all oversight and interference with their internal affairs. It is only because Israel is nothing like the BDS caricature of it that Israelis would object to cultural, economic and political boycott.

      Adding some nuance is not such a bad thing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Adding in caricatures of the critique of the situation masquerading as a plea for nuance is not such a good thing. Much of the strongest critique out there about Israel involves, and is fueled by, not Israel per se but the entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies. Once you understand the full meaning and significance of the the phrase “the entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies,” you will understand a lot more than you appear to understand. All Israel would have to do to instantly suck all the oxygen out of the more extreme critiques of Israel out there is actually for once in its life make a genuine not a fake effort towards a genuine two state solution. Oh, and in the Department of Suspect Analogies, which we visit regularly these days: Neither the USA nor Canada is occupying Quebec, not for one minute and not for 50 years either.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bernie X

          “Adding in caricatures of the critique of the situation masquerading as a plea for nuance is not such a good thing”

          WTF does this sentence mean?

          On second thought, who cares.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I do not feel that it is my job to help you with your limitations.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bernie X

            Will someone give this intellectual masturbater a box of Kleenex?

            Reply to Comment
        • JeffB


          I think you are mischaracterizing his remarks. Rivlin didn’t say that the democracy was in danger but that it was undergoing a radical change in form. I don’t think he believes that if Bennett, Rivlin, Shaked… Israel will cease to be a democracy. What it might cease to have is a court system that is equal rather than subordinate. The form of Israeli democracy will fundamentally change but it won’t cease to be democratic.

          He also made deep criticism (reasonably justified IMHO) of Netanyahu abuse his office with respect to the media. Rivlin didn’t expand on this enough to make an end of democracy claim. Which I do think is exaggerated by other critics.

          So in short, no Rivlin didn’t say what you are claiming he did. He statements were more nuanced and while I disagree with him regarding the court overhaul, a reasonable opinion.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “…Rivlin didn’t say that the democracy was in danger…”

            Nonsense. (Again. Have I used the words “strangely obtuse” before? I mean the man explicitly said it was in danger.)

            Rivlin, speaking at the opening of the Knesset winter session, said he once told former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak of his displeasure with the court’s intervention in the Knesset’s legislative work, and called such judicial activism a “revolution.”
            “I told him then, and I’m quoting: ‘Any definition that upsets the balance, any act that expresses, or even just symbolizes, spilling into the territory of another branch, creates a situation of chaotic democracy, of systemic and dangerous disorder’ …. That is what I said then, and I still hold this position regarding the danger in encroaching on the legislative branch by the judicial branch,” Rivlin said.
            “Today, some three decades after the announcement of that ‘constitutional revolution,’ I want to point out what seems to me to be the countermovement of the historical pendulum – about what seems to be the leadership’s decision once again to confound the system. We are witnesses today to the spirit of the revolution or the counterrevolution. This time, majority rule is the sole ruler,” he added.
            “A chasm lies between the responsible and brave effort to define, after years, the relationship between the legislative branch and the judiciary … and the attempt to threaten the court, to weaken it as an institution.”
            read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.818658

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            And the quote specifically says, “creates a situation of chaotic democracy, of systemic and dangerous disorder”. That’s not the end of democracy just stuff in it he doesn’t like.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            JeffB, you are a funny man. So “a situation of chaotic democracy…systemic and dangerous disorder” is simply “a new form” of democracy and equally dismissible as “just stuff”? As I have told you, your signature trait is your peculiar blitheness.

            And, importantly, this is by the guy who doesn’t want to bestir himself to learn too much about Moshe Feiglin. We’ll regard this as a teaching moment.

            In fact, Israeli President Rivlin is, as were the American Founders, keenly worried about “majority rule as the sole ruler.” You are blithe about that and therein lies all the difference. What Rivlin sees is dangerous is what you, JeffB, are implicitly espousing or at least winking at: Feiglinism, ethnocratic “popular democracy,” involving a frankly declared tyranny of an ethnic majority.

            A ‘truly’ Jewish democracy: On the ideology of Likud’s Moshe Feiglin

            This is indeed “another form” of democracy but I have never gotten the sense that you actually understand it—or maybe you do understand it all too well but are shy about admitting that and owning it. (You have company. Every other right winger here has made himself scarce when I bring up Moshe Feiglin. Hmmm. I wonder why?) The new basic laws being pushed by Shaked and Bennett and Co. will explicitly allow a majority of the Knesset to overturn the Supreme Court. That, pure and simple, is Feiglinism, removing, by design, any defense against the tyranny of an ethnic majority. That is indeed a “new form” of” democracy.” Persico calls if “popular democracy” or Feiglinism. It explains, I contend, what you are up to, and whether you realize it or not, I must add. But if you wink at or approve this new form, you have to study it, know it, and take ownership of it and not feign ignorance or engage in slippery demurrals.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            If I’m going to talk about Feiglin I’m going to need a better article than a +972 editorial that indicates little other than “we don’t like him”. I did find a better article and wrote a response with about a 1/2 dozen areas I agree another 1/2 dozen I disagreed. He’s your personal hobby horse. If he were an important and influential he wouldn’t be this obscure.

            As for majoritarianism vs. democracy I don’t approve of majoritarianism. I’m very happy with the checks on it that exist in the United States. I prefer that for foreign states as well, so for example I was opposed to what Morsi was trying to do in Egypt. Supporting a strong judiciary is different than support full fledged judicial tyranny. The legislative branch needs ultimate authority over the judiciary or you don’t have a democracy. I think Rivlin is wrong here. On a case by case basis the judiciary needs independence to have a fair system. When those two goals conflict I’d like a super majority of the legislature to be able to overrule the judiciary and the judiciary to be able overrule a simple majority of the legislature. I think independence works better in non-parliamentary systems so there are deeper problems with Israel that make this harder specifically to implement. Shaked is moving Israel in a direction of a better balance, so I support her policies. She seems to be doing an excellent job in having the Justice Ministry have real influence and be determinative of law and policy. I see that as advancing not harming democracy. Nothing to do with Feiglin. I have many of the same opinions about judicial overreach in the USA especially with regard to decades past before the court got checked here starting in the 1990s. It was good for the USA and it will be good for Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Not my hobby horse but the horse you are running away from as you have no substantive reply. I will keep bringing this up because it so clearly gets down to brass tacks and the fundamentals you don’t want to even look at much less admit to. Tomer Persico’s article is not an “editorial” it’s a cogent analysis. “Better article” and “we don’t like him” are not minimally serious critiques, show zero sign of ability to grapple with this and seriously engage. It shows impoverishment. None of you is willing to take ownership of your true positions. Nothing to do with Feiglin? You are not owning up to some basic truths. Not a serious discussion. Your sugar coating of Shaked, likewise. Shaked is a fascist:

            Israeli Minister Shaked Takes After Mussolini
            Don’t call the justice minister a fascist metaphorically, as hyperbole or a provocation – call her that because it’s literally what she is
            read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.811399

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            An analysis of a position includes an argument for the position and evidence to support the argument. Not name calling. I can understand why you consider name calling to be substantive but I don’t. Strip away all the name calling an editorial from that article and what is the content? About 3 statements. When Feiglin’s positions have articles meeting a criteria of well thought out careful constructed analysis rather than editorial he becomes notable enough to be considered an influence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is, pretty obviously, on the face of it, false, how you are characterizing Persico’s analysis, and really I take it to be nonsensical your peremptorily dismissing as “name calling” what Persico is saying, and I take it to be a bald-faced evasion by someone not up to the task and running away. It is, once more, not a serious reply from you. And this lack of serious is repetitive now. We have a pattern. On this subject of Feiglin and his relevance.

            This helps me take your true measure. Actually, not to take it but to confirm it. Really I am, even at this point, still shocked at you slinking off like this without engaging in a single substantive remark, yet trying to turn the tables and say Persico is doing that (what you are doing). Or that I am doing that. It is telling. The only arrow in your quiver, it seems to me, when faced with me, is the name calling of “name calling,” and that same arrow is all you’ve got going up against Persico too.  You do a devious thing here, JeffB, which is why we are into constructions like “the name calling of ‘name calling’”—it is a measure of your slipperiness that it comes to this. I shouldn’t be surprised. I think I’ve pinned you down here as you really are. Quod erat demonstandum. 

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bernie X

      Send her to the gulag for party line rectification. Deviation will not be tolerated. Normalization is strictly forbidden.

      Reply to Comment
    3. JeffB


      extreme critiques of Israel out there is actually for once in its life make a genuine not a fake effort towards a genuine two state solution.

      I can think of several times it did that. 1948 (and earlier) in accepting the partition plan. 1967 in the Khartoum offer. Oslo when it brought the PLO back. And certainly I think Camp David and Olmart’s offers were both quite genuine.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        1948 and 1967 are strangely not to the point. Barak’s “offer” (Camp David) was the epitome of ungenuine. We have hashed this out before. Gershon Baskin, among others, has explained this well. Barak’s own assistants at Camp David have admitted that the whole “there is no partner” line was an egregious lie and they regret crafting this false spin. Olmert’s process of making an offer was genuine but incomplete, lacking crucial elements, and then aborted, for reasons beyond Abbas’ control. We have been over this too. The authoritative Bernard Avishai, close to Olmert, having the inside scoop, has explained this well. That these “offers” were genuine and sufficient is an oft-repeated right wing propaganda talking point, a fiction, recycled over and over again.

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB


          Your claim was there was never a genuine offer. You are the one who made an overly broad statement.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The master of the slippery evasion strikes again. (Whenever you lead with “your claim was” I know it’s coming.) I said that Olmert’s process of making an offer was genuine but incomplete, lacking crucial elements, and then aborted, for reasons beyond Abbas’ control.. You twisted that.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Mark

      Have things gotten so bad in Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom? Or does it just entitle you to make condescending comments about other women?

      I’m afraid since your panegyric on the miracles of life in Syria under the dictatorial Assad regime (16 December 2016) in my opinion your credibility on any subject is in tatters.

      Reply to Comment
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