TV Host Fired by Public Broadcaster After Online Protest Against Government

David Green
David B. Green
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Lucy Aharish.
Lucy Aharish.Credit: David Bachar
David Green
David B. Green

Hours after she delivered an impassioned speech at a virtual demonstration against the shuttering of the Knesset and Israel’s courts, Lucy Aharish was fired Sunday from her position as co-host of a new talk show on the Kan public broadcaster.

In a written statement released to the press, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation said there was “no connection between Aharish’s participation in events [taking place] outside the corporation” and her being laid off – explaining that the decision was instead connected to scheduling changes made in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70

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The Walla! news website, however, quoted a “source close to Aharish” as saying that, “This morning [Sunday], Lucy received a phone call informing her that the broadcaster looked unfavorably on her participation in the demonstration … and that she would not be able to continue co-hosting 'Culture Agent.'”

Aharish, 39, is a unique figure in Hebrew-language journalism, and in Israeli society in general: An Arab citizen who does not hesitate to profess her love for the country at the same time as speaking proudly of being a Muslim Arab. In 2015, as the first female Arab news presenter on Hebrew-language TV, she was recognized by the state as a “trailblazer” and given the honor of lighting one of the torches at the official opening of Independence Day celebrations at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.

Three years later, she married her partner of four years – a fact they had kept secret from her family – the actor Tzachi Halevy, who is Jewish, a move that made many Israelis unhappy. These included then-lawmaker Oren Hazan (Likud), who accused the couple of encouraging “assimilation” among Jews.

A protester near Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein's home on March 20, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Aharish’s parents are from Nazareth, but she and her two sisters grew up in Dimona, the impoverished southern desert city where her contractor father found work. She attended Jewish schools, where, per her mother’s instructions, she introduced herself on the first day as “an Arab, a Muslim and an Israeli, and I’m proud of it.”

She soon found herself attacked regularly by the Jewish kids, both physically and verbally. In 1987, she and her family had two Molotov cocktails thrown at their car when they were on a shopping excursion in the Gaza Strip – the border was open in those days – and both her father and a cousin suffered burns. The 6-year-old Lucy was not hurt, but years later would say that, for a while, she hated Palestinians.

The ”Fighting for Our Home, from Home” event, organized by the nonpartisan organization Darkenu as a “demonstration for Israeli democracy,” was broadcast online on Saturday evening. According to Darkenu, it drew a half-million viewers.

Speakers at the event attacked the decision by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to prevent the convening of either the Knesset plenum following the swearing-in of the 23rd Knesset, or any of its committees – and also the delay by two months of the opening of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial, which was scheduled to begin on March 17.

The speakers included former Mossad Director Ephraim Halevy, former Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin and former Supreme Court Deputy President Elyakim Rubinstein. None are affiliated with a particular political party, but all spoke about what they see as the weakening of the legislative and judicial branches, and the threat this constitutes to Israeli democracy.

At the end of the event, Aharish, not content with being master of ceremonies, gave an impassioned speech of her own. She spoke out against baseless hatred, and in defense of not only Israel’s Arabs, who have been the objects of so much incitement during the past year’s election campaigns, but also of all the Jewish population groups – Mizrahim, Holocaust survivors, Ethiopian Israelis, the ultra-Orthodox – who are on the receiving end of hatred.

“Deep inside,” she said, “I thought in my innocence that now, as humanity is forced to contend with something that isn’t connected to religion, race or sex, something that’s not connected to one political stance or another, we would remember how much damage we cause when we hate for hatred’s sake, which I am sorry to say has taken root within us.”

But when she, an Arab, speaks out with criticism, Aharish declared, what she hears in response are voices “that tell me: Say thank you and shut up. Say thank you that you live here and not in another country, where they would have beheaded you a long time ago.

“I choose not to be silent,” concluded Aharish. “I choose not to be silent, because … a silent and frightened citizen is not relevant. And I am not prepared to be irrelevant in my state, in my home, in my future, in our future.”

Only last Thursday, Aharish had made her first appearance with co-host Kobi Medan on what was to be a daily cultural magazine for young people, to be broadcast in addition to the weekly culture magazine Meidan has hosted for adults on Friday evenings since 2018.

It turned out to be Aharish’s final appearance as well.

In its statement, Kan said Aharish would be replaced on the show by Geula Even Sa’ar, who is a regular employee of the public broadcaster, and who appeared on two recently canceled cultural programs. She is also the wife of a prominent Likud lawmaker, Gideon Sa'ar.

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