Event Review: Comedy doesn’t mask prejudice
Four comedians with the same opportunistic rhetoric have come together under the banner of the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour "to promote peace through comedy," in a show sponsored by the World Affairs Council. However, rather than promoting a just end to the conflict, their material exploited it in a disturbing manner.
"We rely on the conflict. Peace would ruin our show," Ray Hanania, co-founder of the group, said.
Both Hanania, a Palestinian-American journalist, and Charles Warady, an American Jew who moved to Israel 12 years ago, said the group broke the taboo of Palestinians refusing to appear and perform with Israelis. The false argument that Palestinians and Israelis have never worked together only canonizes Palestinians as xenophobes, when in fact there are numerous artist and non-profit organizations in the West Bank that have culturally collaborated with Israelis.
The other comedians in the group – Aaron Freeman, a black, Jewish convert, and Yisrael Campbell, an Orthodox Jew who was born a Catholic -signaled their dire and desperate attempt to make people laugh.
Freeman was the first to perform on stage, and after a brief sarcastic introduction stating his goal to end the Palestine-Israel conflict in six years, he went into a musical frenzy. Freeman sang the story of a patriotic Palestinian woman who falls in love with an Israeli settler, using an anti-Semitic pun to reference the phonetics of the Arabic and Hebrew languages.
Warady followed his performance, referring to the Arabic script as being "backwards" and "tough to read." Warady used this as a nonsensical explanation as to why Palestinians voted for Hamas. "They must have read Hamas as ‘hummus’ and Fatah as ‘pita,’" he said. Warady then went on a tangent of how beautiful it is to live in Israel. He insisted Israeli women are the world’s "hottest" and talked about that to some extent.
The saddest portion of the night had to go to Hanania, a guest columnist for Israeli publications such as The Jerusalem Post and Ynetnews. Almost every one of his jokes focused on himself as a Palestinian Muslim, despite being an Orthodox Christian. He joked how as a child, instead of playing with a G.I. Joe he played with a "G.I. Abdallah" action figure, while his sister played with a "Fatima" doll instead of a Barbie. He then pointed at different Arab men in the audience and asked them how many wives they had.
Hanania said after he joined the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour he had performances cancelled by five Arab-American organizations because of his performance alongside Israelis. But what Hanania doesn’t mention is his problematic perspective on the Palestine-Israel conflict. In December 2007, Hanania wrote an article for The Jerusalem Post titled "Getting past Normalization," in which he states Palestinians refuse to accept reality (or, normalization of Israeli occupation).
Ironically, this is a man who says through his comedy he is "defining the moderate Palestinian Arab voice, offering reason to the American, Israeli and Arab public," according to his Web site. Yet Hanania calls the Israeli occupation of Palestine a "self-imposed imprisonment."
The group delievered a performance similar to that of Academy Award-nominated short film, The West Bank Story, a musical comedy that romanticizes the conflict in stereotypic scenes. All the comedians did was reinforce the racist characterization of Palestinians and Israelis through the Orientalist contextualization of the Arab and anti-Semitic illustration of the Jew. It is hard to imagine how any person can support this type of performance and call it "comedy."