The Saudi MBC TV network was recently forced to apologize to its hundreds of millions of viewers for using the name Israel instead of Palestine.
The apology came after viewers strongly condemned the network and threatened to boycott its programs over the use of a map with Israel’s name on it.
The reason Israel appeared on the MBC’s map was because of the participation of two Arab citizens of Israel in its popular Arab Idol contest. The show, based on the popular British show Pop Idol, is the most widely viewed in the Arab world.
The two Arab Israelis, Manal Moussa, 25 and Haitham Khalailah, 24, are from villages in northern Israel. They are among many contestants from all over the Arab world who are performing songs on stage in front of four judges and the public.
This is the first time that Arab Israelis have participated in the popular show.
When this season’s show began in mid-September, the TV station introduced a map with the names of the contestants’ countries. This year, of course, the map showed Israel as one of the countries taking part in the show.
The Saudi station and directors of the Arab Idol show quickly learned, however, that they had committed a big and unforgivable crime. Within minutes, they were flooded with requests to remove Israel from the map and apologize to all Arabs for this «serious offence.»
The condemnations did not come only from Palestinians, but from nearly all the Arab countries. The protesters demanded that MBC immediately replace «Israel» with «Palestine» or face a massive boycott campaign.
Arab activists did not even wait to hear back from MBC, and launched their own online campaign to boycott the station. One group launched a Twitter campaign entitled «Shut Down Arab Idol.» Another campaign was launched under the banner, «Palestine is Arab, not Hebrew.» A third online campaign carried the title, «Together Against Arab Idol.»
And of course there were the more extreme activists who issued threats against the station and its Saudi owners, whom they dubbed «Zionist Arabs.»
Not surprisingly, embattled MBC managers rushed to issue a statement apologizing for displaying a map that referred to Israel as an existing state. MBC claimed that Israel appeared on the map as a result of a «technical error.» The name Israel was removed from the map, which now uses only the name Palestine.
|Israeli citizen Manal Moussa, shown in this image appearing on the «Arab Idol» show, is labeled on-screen with «Palestine» as her country of residence.|
But with that, the story did not come to an end. Under pressure from the viewers, the two Arab Israeli singers are now referred to only as Palestinians. There is no mention whatsoever of the fact that both Moussa and Khalailah were raised in Israel and hold Israeli passports.
The uproar that erupted throughout the Arab world over the use of a map with Israel’s name on it is yet another reminder that many Arabs still have not come to terms with Israel’s existence — and apparently are not interested in coming to terms with it.
This refusal is not related to the recent war between Israel and Hamas or to settlement construction. Rather, it is the narrative that has been prevalent in the Arab world since 1948 — a narrative that considers Israel an alien entity that was violently planted in the Middle East and needs to be removed.
The incident with MBC’s Arab Idol show came amid renewed talk of the purported readiness of some Arab countries to make peace with Israel, in light of the increased turmoil and anarchy in the Arab world and the war on the Islamic State terrorist group.
Every now and then, Israel is advised by some of its friends to consider endorsing the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative, which later became to be known as the Arab Peace Initiative.
In the initiative, the Arab countries say that if Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 lines, they will consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement and establish normal relations with Israel.
These, of course, are just promises made by heads of state and monarchs, most of whom were never elected, and hardly represent the sentiments on the Arab street.
If a powerful TV network such as MBC was unable to face pressure and intimidation and had to remove Israel from its map, how can anyone seriously expect that Arab leaders will be able to win the backing of their people for an initiative that talks about «establishing normal relations» with Israel?
And how can anyone seriously expect that if Israel pulled back to the pre-1967 lines, the Arab world will consider the Israeli-Arab Conflict over?
The protesters who forced MBC to remove Israel from its map were not demanding a two-state solution and an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They were protesting against Israel’s existence; that is what really bothers them.
Their success in forcing MBC to remove Israel from the map is a symbolic victory for those who seek Israel’s destruction. But it is also a reminder that this conflict is not about a settlement or a checkpoint or a fence — but about Israel’s very existence.
In order to make peace with Israel, the Arab world needs to prepare its people for such a move, and not incite violence against Israel and demand that it be removed from maps. Unless that happens, the prospects for real peace will remain as remote as ever.
«Remove Israel from That Map!»
by Khaled Abu Toameh
October 9, 2014 at 5:00 am