When Mizrahi Jews share their memories and aspirations, they can build bridges of hope to the Arab lands they fled. Case in point: Dudu’s Dream — a new short film and multimedia campaign by JIMENA’s Arabic outreach program which has been making waves across the Middle East.
The film concerns Dudu Tassa, an Iraqi-Israeli pop star with a special lineage: His grandfather and great-uncle, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti, were among the most celebrated musicians and composers of the Arab world in the first half of the twentieth century. Before fleeing Iraq for Israel in the airlifts of 1950-‘51, the brothers Kuwaiti wrote hundreds of songs. Some were performed by seminal vocalists including Egypt’s Umm Kulthum, and many are still sung in Iraq, Kuwait, and other Arab countries. With his all-Israeli band, “Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis,” the young heir to this legacy sings the music of his ancestors in a modern style. Despite strained relations between Israel and many of its Arab neighbors, Tassa has won a substantial following in the region — spontaneously, via YouTube.
The Arabic short film Dudu’s Dream, released by JIMENA over the Passover holiday, has given the pop star a platform to convey his hope to one day perform in the lands where his grandfather and great-uncle grew up. “Thank you, my brothers in Iraq and Kuwait, for supporting my music and my ancestors’ music,” he says. “I hope the day will come when we can sing together, like in the good old days. Just imagine it.”
The U.S.-supported Arabic TV network Al-Hurra, with an audience in excess of 25 million, has broadcast the clip, together with 45 minutes of additional programming about Tassa, including an interview with Joseph Braude, JIMENA’s Arabic program director. Braude noted in his remarks that Jews of Iraqi origin, including himself, are “delighted when we hear about Iraqis inside the country who take an interest in us and want to rebuild the bridges between us. Let’s cooperate with one another in all areas. Let’s rebuild the Iraqi mosaic, which was Iraq’s source of strength.”
Dudu’s Dream and the content that accompanied it were subsequently distributed and debated in numerous indigenous Arab media outlets, including the pan-Arab news magazine Al-Hiwar al-Mutamaddin — in addition to substantial Arabic social mediapickup.
How did Arab publics react? JIMENA sought an answer by distributing an opinion survey to the 52,000 followers of its Arabic Facebook page. It asked, “Do you support Dudu Tassa’s right to perform in the land of his ancestors?” Two hundred eighty followers participated in the poll, acceding to Facebook rules whereby their names would appear publicly. Of them, 69 percent responded in favor and 31 percent against. These results contrasted with an anonymous Twitter poll by Al-Hurra, posing a similar question, in which 939 participated, with 30 percent in favor and 70 percent against. “Both outcomes are encouraging,” observed Linda Menuhin Abdel Aziz, a prominent Iraqi-Israeli journalist, “in the sense that Arab societies have been steeped in antisemitic brainwashing for nearly a century. A generation ago, open support for Tassa would have been close to zero.”