Jordanians protest Netflix over show portraying Amman as Tel Aviv

Online entertainment giant Netflix has been filming a new TV series in Amman, portraying the Jordanian capital as Tel Aviv.

This has prompted widespread criticism and protest from activists in Jordan, who see it as normalizing relations with Israel.

Two Jordanian actors, Shady Salah and Reem Barqawi, have confirmed that they have pulled out of the show. Salah claims producers lied to him that no Israeli actors were involved in the production.

Videos circulated on social media earlier this month showing cars with Israeli license plates being used to film street scenes in Amman, as well as street signs in Hebrew:

The TV series, reportedly titled Old Story, is filming in more than 50 locations around Amman, according to Etharrak, a Jordanian activist group that opposes normalization with Israel.

This video shows activists protesting and chanting near of one of the filming locations:

Six of the show’s episodes have already been filmed in Amman, according to the Jordanian publication Roya News.

Whitewashing crimes

Earlier this month, Etharrak condemned the filming in a letter to the Royal Film Commission of Jordan, an official body that promotes and facilitates foreign film and television production in the country.

Israel uses cultural normalization “to beautify and whitewash its crimes, terrorism and occupation,” the letter stated.

Activists have demanded answers from the film commission on the nature of the TV series and the authorization it received to film in Amman.

Earlier this week, members of several anti-normalization groups, including Etharrak, met with the film commission.

According to a statement by the groups posted on Etharrak’s Facebook page, the film commission said that the main actors in the series are American and Australian citizens, and some Jordanians have secondary roles.

The commission also told the campaigners that no Israeli production equipment or actors are involved in the series.

The campaigners also reported that the film commission claimed that the aim of the series was to promote an “end to wars.”

However, campaigners said the commission would not provide any information about the context in which Amman is portrayed as Tel Aviv, as the commission claimed it had no authority to review the content of the series.

Campaigners pointed out the contradiction between the film commission’s claim that it had not reviewed the content of the film, while it simultaneously defends the production and assures the public that its content is benign.

The campaign group criticized the Royal Film Commission for greenlighting a production without knowing its content, adding that the commission “should not allow any party, especially foreign, to produce films or TV series that might promote the Zionist movement or the Zionist entity.”

The groups said that days before meeting with the film commission, they also met with production directors from the series itself. Despite the two meetings, campaigners say they remain in the dark about the context of Amman being portrayed as Tel Aviv.

Actors quit

Actor and comedian Shady Salah announced his withdrawal from the series on Wednesday upon learning that three of his co-actors are Israeli despite being assured otherwise.

“We were fooled,” Salah said in a video he posted on Facebook.

“They assured us that it was written by 1948 Palestinians [Palestinians with Israeli citizenship] and that there would be no Israelis in the matter.”

Salah added that the producers tried to convince him to remain in the show on the basis that it promotes a “good message,” but he refused, stating that “Gaza is being bombed and I cannot film with Israeli actors.”

The Jordanian production company Desert Motion Pictures is handling the project.

“It’s shameful that the Jordanian production company makes us sign on to such things. They say one thing and it turns out to be something else,” Salah said in his video.

A second actor, Reem Barqawi, confirmed to The Electronic Intifada on Thursday that she has also pulled out of the show.

Zionist TV shows

Earlier this year, boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigners urged Netflix to cancel another series, Fauda.

The show was “created by former members of Israeli army death squads,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, stated.

PACBI added that Fauda is “an anti-Arab racist, Israeli propaganda tool that glorifies the Israeli military’s war crimes against the Palestinian people.”

Failing to cancel it would “open Netflix to nonviolent grassroots pressure and possible legal accountability.”


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.