Sisterhood Blog

In Israel, the Most Popular 'Jewish Mother' Is an Arab Muslim

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share
(Click to enlarge)

In the world of Israeli popular culture, the most popular maternal figure at the moment is a very different kind of Jewish mother — a proud Arab Muslim who prays five times daily, calls the Koran her favorite book, obsessively puffs on a hookah pipe and proudly wears a keffiyah.

Futna Jabber is one of the five finalists on Israel’s version of the reality show hit “Big Brother,” after viewers voted week after week to keep the vivacious 37-year-old on their screens for more than three months. So popular was Futna, that she didn’t even have to worry in the last round of voting: None of her housemates nominated her for eliminations. The results of the final eliminations will be announced Thursday on the show’s finale.

From the moment she made her entrance onto the national television screen, Futna made it clear that she wouldn’t allow others to define her, declaring who she was from the beginning: “I am a Moslem Palestinian Israeli mother — but first and foremost, I am a human being.” Her greatest dream: “A real and genuine peace for my children and their friends. Inshallah [God willing].”

She kept her distance from the traditional reality show infighting among the residents, and set up shop in the spot where she knew from the outset that she could dominate any competition unchallenged: the kitchen. In the real world, she and her husband own and operate a small hummus joint in Jaffa. The kitchen was her turf, and if any other resident who dared to tread on her culinary turf - she immediately nominated them for elimination — and the audience complied with her request.

But Futna built warm and affectionate friendships with her housemates — several of them, men who served in combat units in the IDF — all of whom have adopted her favorite Arab slang phrase, “Walla Eeshy!” The relationships stand in interesting contrast to another contestant: Edna Kaneti, who had a short but stormy stay in the house. An activist in the anti-occupation women’s group Machsom Watch, she initiated provocative and angry discussions, and walked out of the house.

But Futna was always respectful. After cooking and serving up multiple, multi-course Friday night Shabbat dinners, Futna listened politely to the blessings over the wine and bread, but did not join in the “amens” and did not take sips of wine or bites of challah. When blessings were offered for all of Israel, she calmly suggested inserting the word “Palestine.” And when she ran a campaign for “Mayor” of the “Big Brother” house, her tongue-in-cheek slogan was “One Futna for Two Peoples.”

Some bloggers asked wistfully why the female and Jewish residents of the house weren’t able to represent Jewish womanhood as successfully as Futna represented Arab females.

The affection, however, appears to be distinctly one-sided. According to Israeli Arab culture critic Aloch Lechel, the affection isn’t mutual. Israeli Arabs, he says, aren’t restricted to watching Israeli Hebrew-language television as they were decades ago, and today, they are much more interested in the reality shows on the Arab channels they watch on cable television and satellite. And they don’t view Futna as any kind of ambassador. Her presence in the Arab Israeli press, he notes, is pretty much non-existent. “We don’t view Futna as representing the Arab people. She represents herself, and maybe her hummus. But us? No.”

Lechel said Futna embodies the Israeli idea of a “safe, enlightened” brand of “pet Arab.”

But under the microscope of 24/7 camera scrutiny, Futna’s character is nothing if not genuine. Her strong identity coexisting with her tolerance legitimately represents skills honed in the cultural and ethnic stew that is Jaffa, as the Academy Award-nominated film “Ajami” attests.

Although her popularity won’t neccessarily bring peace any closer, it certainly offers the Israeli public a badly-needed helping of cross-cultural understanding and appreciation of a strong, unique and thoroughly modern woman: one who dared to ask the question, “Why didn’t they call the show ‘Big Sister?’”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Reality Television, Hummus, Futna Jabber, Big Brother

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.