Perspectives from Israel on Pinay's victory in X-Factor Israel

By Ami Kaufman, +972 Magazine/tlv1, Israel

Posted at Jan 16 2014 11:21 AM | Updated as of Jan 16 2014 10:23 PM

During the final episode of “X-Factor Israel” two nights ago, before each singer walked on the stage to sing his or her final song, a video clip was shown where they visited the posh apartment of Bar Refaeli, Israeli supermodel and host of the show.

“Come on in,” Refaeli greeted Rose Fostanes from the Philippines. "What can I make you to drink?”

“No, let me make you something to drink,” Fostanes answered her, as if she hadn’t realized she was already a star.

And most probably Fostanes will not have to cook or clean for other people far away from her homeland, as she had been doing for decades already all over the Middle East.

Next, she came out of the closet - at least for Israeli viewers - and talked about her partner in Manila who she hadn’t seen in years. Thankfully, the production company brought the partner over and the two were reunited just hours before her performance.

After the clip was over, Fostanes got on stage and gave a dazzling performance with a song that would probably have been last on any contestant’s list in a reality singing show: 'My Way.' But you know what? It actually worked.

And as most of you already know by now - it worked better than even Rose could have imagined, because soon afterwards Israelis voted for her as the winner of the first season of the Israeli X-Factor.

I’ll be honest with you, I was rooting for another contestant, Eden Ben Zaken. And when I heard the first few lines of 'My Way,' I figured it was going to be a flop, thinking Rose couldn’t get away with such a bland karaoke hit. “The Filipina? Singing a karaoke song? Too cliche," I said to myself. Boy did I get it wrong.

So, the Cinderella story came true for Rose. It might be cut short, because Israeli authorities might not let her sing in the country. According to law here, she can only work in Israel as a caregiver - any money she earns as a singer could get her in trouble.

It goes without saying that the timing for her was important. But the timing was also significant concerning recent events in Israel pertaining to migrant workers and asylum seekers.

The latter have been in the headlines for the past few weeks, as they took to the streets to demand a change in Israeli policy towards them.

Over 60,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan have “settled” in south Tel Aviv, bringing tensions between them and the locals to a boiling point. Meanwhile, the Israeli government refuses to determine their refugee status in fear of having to let them stay in the country.

The large Filipino community in Israel was also on the streets last week, demanding their rights. Caregivers in Israel called on the Israeli government to grant them equal rights for domestic workers.

Today, caregivers pay some $8,000 on average as brokerage fees (illegally) to manpower agents to obtain a visa to work in Israel. In addition, caregivers are employed 24 hours a day but only receive the minimum wage, and are the only group working in Israel that is not entitled to payment for overtime.

I recently had the chance to attend a Christmas event of the Filipino community in Tel Aviv, where all proceeds went to the welfare of migrant children, some of whom were detained by Israeli authorities and determined illegal aliens. It was heartwarming to see what a close knitted community they had managed to form far from home.

Actually, one of my best experiences getting to know the Filipino community were my times at the local Filipino karaoke bar in south Tel Aviv, Mommy’s Place.

I remember the Filipina women bravely going where no karaoke rookie should ever go, taking on Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston hits - and nailing it!

Who knows, I might have been listening to Rose back then without knowing I was witnessing a future star.

And what a star she is. She’s a star not only for going all the way with her dream. She’s also a star - at a very important time - for putting a face on “the Filipino caregiver,” who for so many Israelis is just another foreigner whose rights can be trampled on.

Hopefully, Rose’s victory will remind Israelis that we need to treat foreigners in our country with more respect, and that they not only have rights like we do - they also have dreams.

(Editors Note: Ami Kaufman is an editor and co-founder of +972 Magazine, an online Palestinian and Israeli collective committed to human rights and ending the occupation. He is also a radio anchor for tlv1. He was born in Tel Aviv and lives in Bat Yam.)