Israeli sitcom about Arabs a hit

'Avoda Aravit' follows exploits of Arab journalist

LONDON — Whoever said the Arab-Israeli conflict couldn’t be funny? The first primetime Israeli skein about an Arab family is a hit with Israeli auds.

“Avoda Aravit” (Arab Work) follows the comic exploits of an Israeli Arab journo as he deals with a demanding boss and even more taxing family.

So far, so Cosby. Where “Avoda Aravit” has blazed a trail, however, is by being the first mainstream Israeli skein on a commercial web with predominantly Arabic characters and dialogue.

The brainchild of Israeli Arab journo Sayed Kashua and seasoned Israeli TV producer Danny Paran, “Avoda Aravit” has garnered an average 18% audience share during its nine-episode first season, despite being constantly moved around the sked by execs at Keshet Broadcasting, the Israeli network that shares time on Channel 2 with Reshet Television.

“The first eight episodes went out on 10 different timeslots,” says Paran. “Even with that, it’s been a huge success. That this kind of a comedy could go out on a commercial Israeli station and get such good ratings shows there’s still hope for Israeli citizens.”

While the main reasons for the sked-hopping have been commercial, the political sensitivities raised by the show — it tackles Arab-Israeli relations with gleeful irreverence — meant it took Paran four years of banging on doors to land a taker.

Kashua has also taken some hits from Arab journos who have accused him of selling out by not tackling the Israeli occupation more directly in the show.

“Do you sleep well at night Sayed Kashua?” asked one heated editorial written by Israeli Arab thesp Mohammed Bakri.

Ironically, Kashua has also taken heat from Israeli critics over his weekly column in Israeli daily Haaretz. He even received a death threat from one irate Jewish reader after he wrote a piece criticizing the Israeli occupation.

“When one side attacks you, the other side hugs you,” says Kashua, who has been compared to an Arab Woody Allen. “It’s not a lovely place, but I don’t regret doing this show. My goal was to make Israeli audiences laugh with Arab characters and love an Arab family. I didn’t think it would be so popular but this is just the beginning.”

Paran and Kashua are hoping to shop the show, which preemed in November and had its season finale at the end of January, to international broadcasters.

Discussions are already under way with execs at the Palestinian Authority’s pubcaster, while the show’s producers are also planning a public screening of the series in Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Territories. Paran has also held talks with a number of Euro and U.S. webheads.

Work is under way on a second series of the skein, which won the prize for Israeli TV drama at last year’s Haifa Intl. Film Festival. Skein will return for an expanded 13-episode season by the end of the year.

Paran is also prepping aspecial to tie in with the 60th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel. The differing ways that event will be marked by Israelis and Palestinians goes some way to explain the current political divide between the two sides.

While a moment of celebration for the country’s Jewish population, Arabs refer to it as “Al-Nakba,” the Arabic word for catastrophe, when many Palestinian families were displaced from their homes in 1948 and are yet to return.

“I believe having this special on this anniversary will be good for both sides,” says Paran. “It recognizes that we are both here to live together.”