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ISRAEL: TV airs out political disputes

January 10, 2010 |  5:06 pm

If TV is the modern tribal hearth, then the flames are burning a bit high in Israel these days. A recent rash of controversy touches permanently raw nerves and mirrors the fault lines that have come to define society. 

Even before a single episode of its new season aired, the successful satire show Eretz Nehederet ("Wonderful Country"), was taken to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, for an urgent discussion of a highly provocative promo that had the all-but-nude cast smearing one another with paint. Many found the colorful clip way off-color but by the time the Knesset debate rolled around, the artistic-license debate was nearly moot and the show was in the hot seat for content. Its trademark biting satire (above) bit too deep for some with a sketch staged like a video of Gilad Shalit and showing an Israeli soldier held captive not by Hamas but by Jewish settlers, demanding continued settlement construction and other perks in return for the soldier's release.

Legislator Yaakov Katz found no humor in his bearded likeness pointing a gun at an Israeli soldier. This is a deliberate campaign to besmear the settlers and legitimize their removal, he charged in the stormy debate in the parliament's education committee, accusing the show of Nazi-like propaganda. The network now wants the Knesset's ethics committee to determine whether Katz's comments constitute incitement.

Another televised incident a few days earlier was totally straight-faced. Dr. Jamal Zahalka, an Arab Israeli legislator, had been invited to a news studio to talk about a demonstration in solidarity with Gaza one year after Israel's military offensive there. The interview (above) deteriorated to the point where he accused Defense Mnister Ehud Barak of "listening to classical music while killing children." Barak actually is an accomplished pianist but this was no compliment and the interview went downhill from there until veteran Israeli journalist Dan Margalit kicked Zahalka off the set. In live TV, as in life: conflict.

In part a response to the oppressive 24/7 experience of hard news, Israel's commercial TV stations are smothering the news with a blanket broadcast of reality-shows, Israeli renditions of nearly every possible American format. Increasingly, Israelis tune out of news and into reality and do NOT appreciate when reality intrudes on their reality show.

Israel-screengrab tv shows  Especially if it's brought to them by the left-wing.

The current season of "Big Brother" features Edna Canetti, a 54-year-old storyteller who is also a member of Machsom Watch, a group of Israeli women who monitor Israeli army checkpoints in the Palestinian territories and soldiers' conduct there. 

Many of the villa-dwellers are blase on a good day but viewers at home flipped when she said that she wishes to see a popular campaign against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and that the Palestinians should refuse to comply with the checkpoints and tell Israel to "shove" its rules. More than 60,000 people joined a Facebook group calling to trade her to Hamas in return for Gilad Shalit; countless other groups were formed, her family is receiving threats and the production is considering security measures around the set. This too spilled over from TV and into a legislator's  complaint to the attorney general.

Zapping between news, comedy or reality, sometimes the subtext just doesn't change. 

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Videos: Israeli television clips. Credit: YouTube

Photo: A screenbag from YouTube video.