‘Brave enough to see good’: NYC reacts to Arab-Jewish ‘couples’

Actor, writer and producer Karim Metway has conducted an experiment with actors posing as Jewish-Arab couples in various districts of New York City. Residents of these districts had both negative and positive reactions when seeing the two holding hands.

The experiment was to test people’s reactions, but also to show passersby that love does exist outside of the limitations they impose on their belief systems. And while Metway doesn’t appear to be as naive as to think there would be none, he did tell RT it was very surprising to hear the gravity of some of the personal attacks the couples had incurred.

Several variations on “F*ck you” and “You’re a terrorist” came from passersby of all age groups and genders. “This is so wrong on so many levels,” one angry young man said. One Muslim woman said: “You’re making Islam look bad.”

For maximum effect, the idea was to do two rounds - one in a Muslim neighborhood, the other in a Jewish area.

Still, it was difficult to see just how often the insults occurred and how they balanced in number against the much more peaceful and encouraging comments. This video is essentially a supercut of every instance a verbal attack took place. There are places where the viewer can’t know for sure if the passersby were aware they were participating in an experiment. In some places, the actors appear to be outright asking people for their opinion, which slightly takes things out of experimental territory.

But the camera (Metway himself) stayed far enough behind at other times to catch real glimpses of genuine, unprompted surprise from ultra-Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims alike - the target audience Metway chose.

“To be honest with you, it was a lot more negative than I expected. But the positive people actually made up for it much more, because they were brave enough to say good things,” he said.

Indeed, there were many members of older generations who were much less aggressive - even encouraging - toward the actors. One pair of middle-aged men admitted: “I’m an Arab, he’s a Jew,” as they sat down drinking traditionally-made coffee. And if two people really love each other, then “Marhaba,” one of the friends said.

“As long as there is no fighting,” said an Orthodox Jewish man at one point.

Interestingly, while Metway says the hate normally comes from people “who are stuck in the old mindset” and “can’t accept something new or different,” it was actually the younger generations whose reactions felt much more poisonous.

There will always be something we don’t understand, Metway believes. At the end of the day, it’s about “breaking the mold, to show them something new that exists in this world, so they can start getting used to it, in a sense. You can’t just hide from reality,” he said of the experiment.

Metway loves his native New York, and believes it is the perfect place to be at the forefront of a new openness and tolerance that he was trying to get across to the audience here.