Israelis have been bemoaning the absurdity of having three elections in a single year. They tuned in to the popular political satire television show, Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), on Channel 12 of the Keshet Network on Wednesday night to have a few laughs about it – and the show did not disappoint.
It opened in the year 2030 in a dystopian wasteland that was once Tel Aviv, with current Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, played by Eli Finish, still sitting in his prime minister’s chair, alone in the courtyard of an apartment building. And who should come along to push his chair? None other than his current rival and leader of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz (played by Lior Ashkenazi, a serious actor who has a talent for impressions).
It turns out that Netanyahu and Gantz are still deadlocked and planning to hold another election because they can’t agree on who will go first in a national unity government rotation, and whether Netanyahu – who is currently facing three indictments – should get lifetime immunity from prosecution. As they bicker, it turns out that there is one neighbor left in the building who has spent the last decade shut up in the bomb shelter watching Netflix, and he advises them to take up a hobby or something. They tell him that it’s all up to him now, and he asks them why they can’t decide for themselves.He can’t even remember where his polling station is, and when he checks the mailbox, he is elated to discover that he has received the Portuguese passport he applied for so he can get out of there. He leaves and the two doddering politicians stay there playing Rock-Paper-Scissors to try to decide who will win, but keep tying each other.
No other joke truly matched the bite of the opening, which was so close to the current reality, it was almost more sad than funny. But they went on to lampoon just about everyone in the political landscape – no faction escaped unscathed. Among the better lines were when Netanyahu told host Eyal Kitzis that “indictments are the cornerstone of democracy,” while refusing to rise from his chair no matter how he was provoked.
One routine drew an official protest even before it aired – a fiery response from the show’s resident Russian, Irena (Liat Harlev) – to the remarks by the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef calling Russian immigrants “complete gentiles” and calling for an amendment to the Law of Return to stop more of them from coming. Eretz Nehederet released promos earlier Wednesday in which Irena promised she would have something to say about all this, and Yosef’s spokesman issued a statement noting that the rabbi only criticized some of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, not all of them, and asking the show not to distort his words – a clear measure of how seriously the establishment takes the satirical show.
Irena gave a list of all the ways in which she is Jewish – lighting candles even in the bathtub and binge-watching Shtisel were two of them. She asked the rabbi to devote his energy to something more constructive, like helping women whose husbands have disappeared and can’t remarry.
IN ANOTHER segment, former education minister Naftali Bennett was called to task for the dismal scores Israeli students have received on international evaluation tests. Portrayed as a petulant child playing a video game and wearing fatigues, he turned the question to the current education minister, Rafi Peretz, and to his colleague in the Bayit Yehudi Party, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Smotrich, wearing a pro-Kahane armband, ran around the stage like a wild animal, roped by Peretz. Peretz said that test scores didn’t concern him as much as “values,” a reference to his support for conversion therapy for gay people (which he later retracted). He said that he preferred to talk about what unites rather than what divides. Smotrich clarified, saying, “that we both hate gays!” and Peretz tasered him.
But it wasn’t only the Right that got roasted. In a parody of West Side Story, a right-wing man fell for a left-wing woman who, like all the leftists, was elderly.
In addition to all the politicians, lots of other people dropped by, including the ghost of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was assassinated last week in an American airstrike. He also berated Bennett for the low test scores and refused to give up the ring, which was used to identify his body, to the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu. He threatened many types of retaliation for his death – but every one that he mentioned, like creating a shortage of flu vaccines, had already taken place in Israel, the panelists told him. Kitzis said he would have to be more creative.
Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino and his pregnant wife, Israeli singer Daniella Pick, talked about their excitement about having their first child, whom Pick claimed would be the greatest singer of the next decade. Tarantino, kept saying, “Toda, geveret (Hebrew for “Thanks, Mrs.”), I love you,” which he said to her when accepting the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay on Sunday night. He revealed that his next film would be called Once Upon a Time ... in Petah Tikva and that it would star Brad Pitt as a gas station employee and Leonardo DiCaprio as a construction worker on a building that collapses.
Tarantino also said that he enjoyed the violent action at the Festigal, a Hanukkah musical, claiming that there had been a sword fight over a parking space – and that he loved all kinds of sufganiyot, or Hanukkah donuts, as well as making a few off-color puns and ribbing his father-in-law, music icon Svika Pick.
Tarantino and Pick were the final guests, and Kitzis promised that the show would return next week. It's hard to imagine that next week's episode could top this one, although the current political reality will certainly inspire more bitterly funny sketches.