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This Jewish-Palestinian couple offers a comedic cure for Middle East conflict

Jess Salomon and Eman El-husseini, a Jewish-Palestinian lesbian married couple who perform standup comedy together, have gained new audiences at a moment when the political debate in Washington over U.S. support for Israel has heated up. Hari Sreenivasan reports on how this couple is using humor to tackle conflict.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The pursuit for peace in the Middle East has been an elusive goal for decades.

    As Hari Sreenivasan reports, one couple is turning to humor to tackle conflict between Jews and Palestinians.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    An unlikely duo…

  • Jess Salomon:

    I'm Jess.

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    And I'm Eman.

  • Jess Salomon:

    And we're a Jewish-Palestinian lesbian married couple, yes.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    Wow. That's not how our families reacted. Thank you.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For the past year, comedians Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini have performed together, on stage and through Instagram cartoons, with one name, the El-Salomons.

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    Jess is the one who proposed to me. Amazing. She actually built the courage to ask my Muslim father for my hand in marriage. He said no.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Eman and Jess' act draws on what they call their inconvenient marriage. Their comedy, based on being a Jewish-Palestinian couple, is finding new audiences, at the same time that the political debate heats up in Washington over U.S. support for Israel.

    In recent months, President Trump has engaged in a public war of words with Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women in Congress, over language Republicans, and even some Democrats, labeled anti-Semitic.

  • Jess Salomon:

    What do you think?

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    I like it, but I wish…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jess Salomon:

    … yellow mustard.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    After a quick stop at their local Jewish deli and Arabic grocery store, Jess and Eman say there's no debate.

    Is it possible to be critical of Israeli policy without being anti-Semitic?

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    Of course. When you love something, it's fair to criticize it because you want it to get better. You have high expectations.

  • Jess Salomon:

    I love you, and I criticize you.

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    All the time, exactly. That's the perfect example.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jess Salomon:

    And look how much better you have gotten.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One uniting issue for the Muslim and Jewish communities, hate crimes. Reported incidents in the United States have been on the rise in recent years. High-profile attacks like those on synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego and a mosque in New Zealand keep that concern in the news.

    Has the rise in white supremacy bonded both of you a little more?

  • Jess Salomon:

    I think it's bonded us, for sure. Both our communities are targets of white nationalism or white supremacists.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    That's one of our arguments. I'm hated more. No, I'm hated more.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jess Salomon:

    No, it's me.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But before they could have serious conversations about the divide between Israel and Palestinians, the couple had to establish some ground rules.

  • Jess Salomon:

    When we would get into an argument, where did you hear this? If you heard it growing up or you heard it at the dinner table or you heard it in Hebrew school, you heard it — it doesn't count. We have to go to another source of information.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is something else that people can do to try to turn the temperature down in an argument with someone when it's so personal?

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    I think if you educate yourself, because a lot of people who get in these heated discussions, it's usually emotional, rather than like an actual — just like a regular conversation that's well thought of.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Over time, their politics became aligned, as Jess, a former United Nations human rights lawyer, has grown more critical of Israeli policy.

  • Jess Salomon:

    I moved into her place. She didn't want me there. But I moved in anyway. You know how we do.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jess Salomon:

    OK.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    It's a beautiful love story. She makes me go through checkpoints in my own apartment.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And Eman, whose family fled Palestine and then Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion in 1991, makes her Palestinian heritage a centerpiece in their act.

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    It's not easy being Palestinian nowadays or for the past seven decades.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    I feel like we're the only ethnic minority group that gets excited when a racist person tells us to go back to our country.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    Like, hey, why don't you go back to your country? Oh, my God, thank you so much, sir. That's so nice. He thinks we have a country. That is so sweet.

  • Jess Salomon:

    There's like some talking points that you grow up with as a Jewish person. And one of them is that Palestinians don't recognize the existence of Israel, you know, for example. And it was really only with Eman that she was like, well, no…

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    I was like, what about our existence? Nobody cares.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Someone is going to watch this and say, well, look, clearly, Jess has sold out. She's so enamored. She's gone to the other side.

  • Jess Salomon:

    Well, sometimes, they will even call me anti-Semitic or self-hating or a traitor.

  • Eman El-Husseini:

    Aside from our politics, our life is pretty Jewish. I'm not particularly religious, but I have been to synagogues way more than mosques.

  • Jess Salomon:

    There's like so many things that have to come together for you to find your person.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    While a sense of humor has worked so far for Jess and Eman, a comedic cure has yet to land among their divided cultures.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Hari Sreenivasan in Brooklyn, New York.

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