With the launch of award-winning comedy series "Arab Labor" on KCET in May, we sat down with Jordan Elgrably, the executive director of the Levantine Cultural Center, which champions a greater understanding of the Middle East and North Africa by presenting artistic and educational programs that bridge political and religious divides. We wanted to find out how the series might help audiences better understand some of the nuances around the Arab-Israeli experience.
"Arab Labor" is not only appreciated by Arab audiences, it's also one of the top comedies in Israel. Why do you think it's so compelling for both audiences?
Arab Labor lets both Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians get a glimpse of each others' lives and family dynamics. Lo and behold! They discover they have more in common than they might have predicted.
Why is it important to bring a series like "Arab Labor" to American and Southern California audiences?
It's important to get Americans to watch this show as it can help humanize Arabs, and illuminate the Israeli-Palestinian situation, which is often such a morass.
What do you say to Arab and Jewish factions who feel that "normalization of relations" is damaging?
Bah humbug! Eighty-seven percent of us are moderates and we need to be in conversation with each other. Erecting walls only feeds fear and ignorance of the other. Laughing together at our shared foibles, idiosyncrasies and inanities is a great way to break the ice.
How important is the role of the arts to advancing cultural diplomacy?
We all share a delight in food, music, beauty and laughter, and that is where we all intersect, regardless of our cultural identity, religious beliefs or ethnic background. Often arts are the only way to begin a political reckoning.
What has been the Levantine Center's experience in trying to cross this cultural divide?
We have successfully reached thousands of Arabs, Muslims, Jews and Americans of all backgrounds over the past 12+ years and believe that cultural diplomacy provides opportunities for dialogue and personal growth that are not to be missed.