Two Saudi television series airing during the holy month of Ramadan have caused an uproar in the Arab world as critics accuse the network behind the series of trying to change Arab views of Israel.
The Dubai-based, Saudi-owned MBC network has also received criticism for trying to cast the Palestinians in a negative light on the programmes, critics say.
MBC, a media and entertainment arm of the Saudi government, was accused of promoting “normalisation” with Israel despite its decades-long occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories, as well as its systematic abuse of Palestinians still under its military control.
Facing criticism from across the Arab world, the Saudi press agency carried a statement by the Saudi government during a cabinet meeting, chaired by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz on Wednesday, reiterating its “full support for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause”.
“The Palestinian issue was and is still the Arab and Muslims central issue and the first priority for the kingdom since its inception as it rejected any measure or type of occupation of the Palestinian territories and stood steadfast by the side of the Palestinian people,” the statement said.
The Um-Haroun (Mother of Haroun) series chronicles the life of an elderly Jewish nurse living in the Gulf in the 1940s, highlighting a period of the region’s history when Jews and Arabs lived in religious harmony.
In the other show, a comedy called Makhraj 7, or Exit 7, Saudi actors Nasser Al-Qasabi and Rashid Al-Shamrani are seen discussing dealing with Israelis for business purposes.
In one scene, Al-Qasabi’s character rejects these ties, saying “Israelis are enemies”, to which Al-Shamrani’s character replies: “The real enemy is the one who shows no gratitude for your stance, dismisses your sacrifices and curses you day and night, more than the Israelis”.
“We entered wars for Palestine, we cut oil for Palestine and the day it became an authority, we paid its salaries even though we have more right to this money. Yet they take every opportunity to attack Saudi Arabia,” Al-Shamrani’s character adds.
Although Saudi Arabia has financially backed Arab countries that fought against Israel, it did not itself engage in any military confrontation with Israel since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
MBC has denied it was attempting to change Arab attitudes towards Israel and has refused critics’ calls to cancel the shows.
“MBC is bringing joy and happiness in the hearts of people who are living the despair of the Arab world since the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” a spokesman said.
Joshua Cooper, from the group Jewish Voice for Peace and Professor of Mathematics at the University of South Carolina said the Saudi TV productions could be a result of the “cozy business and political relationship” between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“It’s decidedly in both Israel and the Saudi regime’s interest to foster antipathy toward the Palestinians … and simultaneously blur the distinction between Jews and Zionists,” Cooper told Al Jazeera.
He added “Zionist agitators” on Western social media have used the uproar over the television shows to “predictably blame Arabs for the Israeli violence against them and conflate Jews with Israel”.
The founding of Israel in 1948 and subsequent massacres and expulsion of Palestinians from their lands in Palestine in the 1940s and ’50s inflamed passions throughout the Middle East.
Washington-based Palestinian-American journalist Mohamad Dalbah said Saudi Arabia has never “truly” had any serious issue with Israel, and over the decades collaborated with it on several occasions.
“What stood in the way of open and public ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel was the Saudi desire to have it through an Arab umbrella cover,” he said.
As evidence of his argument, Dalbah said Saudi Arabia proposed two peace initiatives with Israel, in 1982 and in 2002, in order to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and establish official relations with Israel.
The Saudi proposals envisioned full and normal ties between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world, in exchange for an end to the conflict and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Israel rejected both proposals.
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