The satirical comedy skits put on by Lior Klein concerning Jesus and Mary on Israel’s Channel 10 last week have provoked rallies and protests by Palestinian-Israeli Christians, of whom there are about 120,000. They also drew condemnation from Muslim Palestinian-Israelis, of whom there are over a million. Klein said that since Christians were denying the Holocaust, he was denying Christianity. He and Channel 10 later apologized to a delegation of Israeli Christians, and pledged that the skits would not be rerun. (Al-Safir covered the affair in Arabic).
The skits denied Jesus’s miracles, said he died young because he was too fat and so could not have walked on water, and said Mother Mary was not a virgin but rather a promiscuous woman who had had many lovers and first got pregnant in high school at age 15. Palestinian-Israelis viewed them as a secular Israeli attack on Arab beliefs and folkways. That is, the pieces were viewed as racist and not just anti-religious but as ethnic bigotry. They were even called “anti-Semitic,” since Arabs are Semites as are Jews.
Muslims believe that Jesus was an envoy of God and revere him and Mary. The Quran devotes more space to Mary and the nativity than does the New Testament. So the show offended Israeli Muslims, as well. I saw them on Aljazeera speaking out against the skits and denouncing them as racist (`unsuri).
The way in which the incident was interpreted in the terms of Israeli identity politics suggests that nerves are frayed among Palestinian-Israelis in the wake of the massive Israeli assault on Gaza this winter. Already humiliated by Israeli disregard for the value of innocent Arab life in that campaign, they are sensitive to any slights from the Jewish Israeli majority.
So what did we learn here? A Jewish-Israeli attack on the holy figures of Christianity provoked outrage among Muslims as well as Christians, and was denounced by Palestinian-Israelis (20% of the population) as racist and as anti-Semitic.
One background for this Palestinian-Israeli response is that the crucified Christ is often taken by Palestinian Christians as a symbol of their displacement and expropriation at the hands of Israelis. So the attack on that symbol (‘died young of being obese’) by a representative of the Jewish majority was doubly painful, since it repeated on a symbolic level the Israeli denial of the 1948 Catastrophe and even of the existence of the Palestinians.
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