“Satire is tragedy plus time,” wrote Lenny Bruce. Within the Israeli context,
that should be reworded as: “No matter how much time has passed, the tragedy is
that satire is the privilege of the Left.”
Jewish humor, anthropologists
have informed us, has always been accompanied by a strong social commentary
character. Israeli humor takes that one step further: It is intensely political.
For the past four decades, the televised satire has been predominantly
left-of-center and directed too often against the nationalist and religious
The defense of Israeli satire that has always been voiced is that
the “freedom of expression” and “freedom of artistic creativity” are
Another excuse is that satire always attacks the government in
power. We note, though, that good satire attacks all those in power, including
politicians of all stripes, business moguls, the cultural elites, the powerful
media, the judiciary and society in general.
Israeli television has a
long tradition of satirical programs. From Nikui Rosh in the 1970s, to the
Hartzufim in the 1990s, to Eretz Nehederet, which debuted in late 2003, media
consumers have never been at a loss for laughs. The targets, though, have made
those shows one-dimensional.
It was Jonathan Swift who wrote an incisive
truth so relevant to Israel: “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do
generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”
A skit-by-skit review
over the years highlights another disturbing element. The viciousness of the
humor can reach shocking depths. The imagery, more often than not, goes beyond
the expected biting style – as when a Hartzufim skit had two haredim dining on
the head of a secularist, or a Hebron housewife using a bent-over Arab as an
What is the current state of affairs? Israel’s Media Watch
reviewed Eretz Nehederet for the period of December 2010 to May 2011, a total of
15 programs. The main personalities who appear in the program are Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu (nine appearances), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (four)
and Interior Minister Eli Yishai (four). Lieberman is portrayed as a fascist,
including a Nazi-like hand salute. The character representing the Council of
Judea and Samaria spokeswoman, Roichel, is depicted as a lesbian and a sadist
and is seen in 11 of the 15 programs. Opposition politicians are missing as
objects of scorn, but Jonathan Pollard appears twice.
Funny or not, this
reflects an ideologically-driven agenda from the far Left, the assumed fiefdom
of the country’s cultural and literary elite.
But there is a solution in
sight. It is balance.
And it exists.
Over the past few years,
inroads have been made by satirists coming from a different political and social
worldview – Haggai Segal, Uri Orbach and Erel Segal (no relation) have been
publishing satirical columns in the printed media and have even achieved radio
status. Yedidya Meir’s “Eppes” page, which challenged readers with its very
Jewish frame of reference, eventually had to leave Haaretz. Even the B’sheva
weekly and Makor Rishon’s Friday edition carry satirical columns. Television,
however, is still the “property” of the leftist elite.
For the past two
years, first as a website and then in a video format, Latma has emerged as a
remarkable example of fresh satire, if only because it is simply different. Gone
is the monopoly.
And it is popular. Its classic “We Con the World” clip,
commenting on the 2010 flotilla effort to Gaza, had, as of Monday morning, over
2.5 million hits at one of its YouTube locations (and at least another million
at other sites).
Latma criticizes the media, mocks politicians across the
spectrum and includes social commentary in its barbed humor. It comes from an
admitted right-wing perspective. By its very existence, it exemplifies the lie
pushed by the cultural leftist elite in Israel: that culture is Left and the
Right is dry.
With a proven track record, Latma has been in negotiations
with the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1 TV. At least one pilot was
successfully produced. Caroline Glick said last April that “this will provide an
opportunity for new talent to penetrate onto the national scene... our product
is going to be introducing Israeli TV audiences to a lot of new faces.” Over 100
episodes of Latma’s Tribal Update are proof that the crew is professional.
However, at present, the IBA claims it does not yet have the considerable
funding necessary for going on air.
If any example were required to
highlight the deep gap between Left and Right, one only need review last week’s
sketches by Eretz Nehederet and by Latma vis à vis the tent protest camp at
The first attacks Binyamin Netanyahu, the tycoons
and the settlers in Judea and Samaria.
The last few minutes of the
program are devoted to propaganda prepared by the tent protesters.
by contrast, points to the unmistakable political socialist thrust of the
leadership, with its New Israel Fund backing. It also deals with the social
terror exercised against anyone who does not toe the line of the demonstrators.
It ridicules the supposed deep concern of the left-wing demonstrators for the
well-being of the average Israeli citizen, noting that this concern was not
evident during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli public
deserves variety, pluralism and balance. The laws that oversee the television
networks lay down those very same principles.
There is enough satire to
go around for everyone.
The creative effort can come from all
Can we all not enjoy a good laugh?
Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad
are, respectively, chairman and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.