Tall order

Israeli comic goes viral with ‘marriage proposal’ to Saudi prince

Arab social media users and news outlets widely report on Noam Shuster-Eliassi’s jest, which some appear to portray as a serious gesture

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Noam Shuster-Eliassi, 32, speaking to the Arabic-language channel of i24 News on February 13, 2019. (Screenshot: i24 News)
Noam Shuster-Eliassi, 32, speaking to the Arabic-language channel of i24 News on February 13, 2019. (Screenshot: i24 News)

A Jewish-Israeli comedienne, who joked two weeks ago that she wants to marry Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said that she was surprised by the explosive reaction to her comment in the Arab world.

“I did not expect by any means for it to explode in this way,” Noam Shuster-Eliassi, who recently left a career in peace-building work for comedy, told The Times of Israel this week, of the comment she made about Prince Mohammed. “I have never experienced something on this scale.”

Shuster-Eliassi, 32, spoke to the Arabic-language channel of i24 News on February 13 about the challenges she faces as a tall woman, contending that “nobody likes a tall and strong girl.” She then mentioned that while her family members have recently urged her to quickly marry anyone, even a non-Jew, she does not plan to settle for an ordinary husband, quipping that she would like to wed Prince Mohammed, “a very tall man” whose country she said is warming its ties with Israel.

“I don’t want to [marry] just any person. I want to shoot high. Sham, do you know who I see when I shoot high?” she said, speaking in Arabic to Sham al-Adawi, who was interviewing her. “There is the tall [Syrian President] Bashar Assad. But — no, no, no — he won’t work. Umm, MBS [Mohammed bin Salman]. MBS is a very tall man and I know that there are now… more relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” she said, going on to ask the Saudi prince to support an imaginary Israeli political party she created.

In this October 24, 2018 photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addresses the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency via AP, File)

In the days following her remark about the Saudi prince, Arab social media users and some Arabic-language news sites reported it, including a handful of outlets that did not appear to portray it as satire, but rather a serious suggestion.

Howiya Press, a Moroccan news site, for instance, reported on February 15 that Shuster-Eliassi “was courting Bin Salman and wishing to tie a knot with him.”

Abdelkarim al-Banawi, a Syrian social media user, wrote on February 19: “An Israeli activist asks for the hand of the Saudi crown prince! Will there be a relationship between Tel Aviv and Riyadh by marriage?”

After Faisal al-Qassem, one of the Arab world’s most prominent media personalities, posted on Facebook about her comment, it went viral, with BBC Arabic producing an entire segment on it and the Qatari satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera creating a long video featuring it.

In contrast, the Israeli press largely has not covered her comment about the Saudi crown prince and the reaction to it.

Shuster-Eliassi said she believes what she said about Mohammed received so much attention in the Arab world because it coincided with a US- and Polish-hosted conference on the Middle East in Warsaw on February 13-14, which senior officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries attended.

“The joke was that Saudi and Israel are already having secret meetings, so I asked for him to help me with being single and building my party,” she said. “The timing with the Warsaw summit is what made it take off. I think the Arab world used it as ammunition to say something about what is happening and the narrow interests that are leading the region.”

In the past couple of years, Israel and a number of Arab countries including Saudi Arabia seem to have gradually developed warmer informal interactions over their joint opposition to Iran’s Middle East policy. Many observers saw the confab in Warsaw, which heavily focused on Tehran, as a tangible example of the apparently growing relations between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

Shuster-Eliassi, a daughter of a Mizrahi mother and an Ashkenazi father, grew up in Neve Shalom, a joint Arab-Jewish village outside of Jerusalem, where she would communicate with her neighbors in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Despite joking about Israel and Saudi Arabia’s apparently warming ties, she said she does not support them normalizing their relations while ignoring a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“If they are going to build their ties for economic, security and other reasons but ignore the harsh reality of the occupation and the price we all pay for it, I am absolutely against that,” she said, referring to Israel’s military rule over Palestinians.

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