Arab Labor

'Arab Labor,' Season 2, Episode 5 Explainer: 'Building Committee'

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of "Arab Labor."

Aron Kader:

This episode mocks democracy, tackles the negative stereotypes of Arabs, and makes a poignant statement on peace in both a subtle and straightforward manner. As usual, it confronts issues surrounding classism and racism in Israel and the stigmas associated with it.

The meaning of the title of the show is challenged and dispelled in this episode. Abu Amjad becomes the gardener for his son's building and does such an amazing job that it destroys the stereotype that Arab labor is poor, cheap, and inadequate. If you've seen the movie "The Help," you might recognize a similar statement about how views on class in a society where race is a central concern are revealed when dealing with the laborer or the "help."

Amjad's father Abu Amjad take a job as the building's new gardener just to be closer to his family. It embarrasses Amjad to be the son of a gardener, which, in turn, offends his father. He doesn't acknowledge their relationship in front of the neighbors until the very end of the episode. When talking to neighbors Timna and Natan, Abu Amjad hides his identity and introduces himself as "Abu Zibel" which means "fertilizer" or "manure," another way of saying s**t. Abu Amjad is so offended by his son that he'd rather refer to himself as Mr. S**t.

Abu Amjad has a need to be around his family and grandchildren, which is very common in Palestinian culture. If you spend enough time around Arabs, you'll see how strong of a role the fathers play in the family. Having a lot of kids and being a parent is a source of pride for many Arab fathers. They take it seriously, sometimes to a fault. Their role of raising and mentoring their kids, and teaching and leading their families is all part of the culture. Men are expected to be strong, active, caring, protective fathers. Anything else would bring embarrassment to the family.

There is social and cultural pressure on Arab men not only to provide for the family financially, but to also be involved in every aspect of their lives up until they get married. When Arab men become fathers, they are incredibly affectionate with the babies and kids.

The building's committee chairman, Yoske, decides to step down, leaving his post up for grabs. Amjad ends up being the only candidate, but still loses the election. Amjad is embarrassed that his father is doing menial tasks for money. It starts our with gardening then turns into cleaning the stairs and walking dogs. He ends up being so well liked by the tenants that he's chosen to be building manager.

The greatest scene of the season is in this episode. Amjad is playing backgammon with Yoske when they realize they fought on opposing sides in the 1967 war. They show their scars to each other and describe how they got them. Coincidentally, Yoske was shot by a sniper that turns out to have been Abu Amjad. This one scene seamlessly demonstrates what peace and reconciliation could look like: Compare scars and move on with humor and humility. Let the past remain in the past. That is peace.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.

Naomi Ackerman:

The term "Arab labor" means cheap labor. It doesn't just refer to the amount you pay for someone to work, but also the quality of work. Arab labor is considered shoddy, poorly executed, and without precision.

In this episode, Amjad's new building needs a gardener and his father takes the job, embarrassing Amjad in the process. Amjad then decides to run for building manager so he can fire his father. In his gardening work, Amjad's dad completely turns the idea of Arab labor around, proving that it could be the best labor available. So much so that the people in the building want to hire him to do other jobs.

This causes a dispute between Timna and Natan because Timna feels that Natan is abusing the Arab labor in a racist way. They reinforce and break stereotypes at the same time during their dispute. Timna jokes that Natan should ask the Arab "hand" to make food for them exactly then Amjad calls and invites them to a barbecue that ends up being the best they've ever had.

Between many of the Jewish and Arab characters, there is always a fine line of the Jewish oppressor and the Arab oppressed. Neither side wants to be stereotyped, they want to prove that they are diffident, better. But by trying so hard, they end up being exactly who they don't want to be time and time again.

Amjad's father compares gardening to serving in the reserves, insinuating that this is the work he was meant to do, work he is used to doing. Before the 1948 War of Independence, the majority of Palestinians worked the land. After serving the mandatory three-year Army Service, Israeli men must continue to do reserve service for one month every year until their 40th birthday.

The scene where Amjad's father and the 1967 vet are playing backgammon shows us what reconciliation can and should look like -- no fear or anger, just shared memories and humor. Both men are basically saying we do not begrudge.

We can joke about our scars from the past and look to the future, accept reality, and move on. The day people can put hate aside, look their enemy in the eye, and sit and reminisce together about the past is when peace will begin.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

Watch Kader and Ackerman recap the episode.