TV Show 'Homeland' Irks Lebanese, Israelis

Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison appear in Homeland (season 2, episode 2).
Associated Press + More

The reactions to the show in Lebanon and Israel reflect the tremendous divergence of narratives between the two peoples — each seeing the other as aggressor, each seeing itself as a victim.

Many Lebanese cannot forget the massive destruction Israel inflicted on Beirut during a 1982 invasion when it succeeded in routing the Palestine Liberation Organization from the country. They resent the 18-year occupation of south Lebanon that followed, and their leaders in any case reject the existence of the Jewish state.

But to Israel, Lebanon has been a perennial staging ground for missile strikes and other attacks on Israel, more than justifying the massive Israeli operations there that have occurred in every decade since the 1970s.

Eytan Schwartz, a spokesman for Tel Aviv's mayor, said the Lebanese should, if anything, be pleased at the TV show's choice for a stand-in.

"If I were Lebanese, with all due respect, I'd be very flattered that a city, and a world heritage site, thanks to its incredible architecture, and residents who were named among the top 10 most beautiful people in the world (ranked by Traveler's Digest magazine in 2012) could pass as Lebanese," he said.

"All we can do is pray for a day when the Lebanese regime will allow our Lebanese friends to visit us and see for themselves," Schwartz said.

Nir Rubinstein, an Israeli Internet developer who fought in Beirut as a young soldier 30 years ago, said he understood the Lebanese anger, but also how Israelis might be insulted as well.

"This sort of diminishes Tel Aviv and Jaffa, which are more modern than Beirut," said Rubinstein, speaking for a generation of Tel Aviv residents who are aggressively proud of their city — a densely populated urban area of some 2.5 million people with a standard of living that rivals most places in Europe, a world-class tech industry and a raucous nightlife.

Beirut itself has developed impressively in the two decades since its 15-year civil war ended, and its growing renown as a party city in its own right — the most liberal and fun-loving of major Arab cities — is a source of some fascination to Israelis who are barred from going there.

But the portrayal of Lebanon as swarming with guns is hardly unreasonable nonetheless.

The country has dozens of armed militias that still flourish, and an alarming number of private individuals have weapons in their homes, including hunting rifles, guns and even RPG launchers.

The biggest militia of all, Iranian-backed Hezbollah, has gained so much power and influence over the years that it's now part of the government, wielding virtual veto power, and long-running talks on disarmament have gone nowhere.

The abundance of weapons is one reason why conflicts here can turn deadly so quickly.

In May, an explosive, eight-hour shootout in a residential area of west Beirut, which apparently began after a domestic dispute, killed several people — including a man who was firing machine guns and lobbing grenades from his balcony.

Lebanon also has seen a rise in clashes stemming from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Despite its immense popularity, "Homeland" does not appear to have reached Hezbollah's radar.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim al-Moussawi told the AP when asked about the show. "This is the first I'm hearing about it."

Still, he described Abboud's plan to sue the producers as "a good step" and said Hezbollah will probably study the issue and put out a statement if needed.

Lebanon's leading LBC TV carried a report on the controversy Thursday, saying the show disparages Arabs and that its setting in Israel is "a double insult."

But Ariel Kolitz, a Tel Aviv businessman who was a childhood friend of Gideon Raff, the Israeli co-creator of "Homeland," said that it wasn't as if the production team had the option of shooting in Beirut, where Raff and other Israelis involved are not permitted to visit and where they could be in danger.

"It's a lot simpler to shoot here," he said. "That's it."

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AP writer Lauren E. Bohn in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.