‘Channel 2 Purim satire reflects racist subtexts in Israel’

‘Eretz Nehederet’ episode portrays Obama with bling, listening to rap.

By FELICITY KAY
March 3, 2010 22:43
3 minute read.
‘Channel 2 Purim satire reflects racist subtexts in Israel’

obama flag sky 224 88 ap. (photo credit: AP)

Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country), Channel 2’s popular and influential satirical show, has highlighted a potential racist undercurrent within Israeli society with its latest depiction of the American president, according to the vice president of Democrats Abroad – Israel.

Hillel Schenker did not see the episode as a cause for alarm. However, he stated that while his organization’s executive board would not be calling an emergency meeting to discuss the episode or form an official statement, there were some members of the executive who had been offended by the depiction.

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The episode in question – a Purim special, aired on Friday night – portrayed US President Barack Obama wearing a large gold medallion around his neck, sporting harem pants and dancing to rap music. While the face and hands of the actor playing the president, series regular Eli Finish,  were also painted black, Finish’s face was clearly a more exaggerated and darker shade.

Finish played an amalgamation of Obama and the Purim story’s King Ahasuerus in the episode, which opened with Mariano Edelman in his recurring role as Binyamin Netanyahu, reading the megilla as Mordechai the Jew. In a satirical twist, the character of Haman, the evil Persian prime minister, became the smooth-talking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, openly discussing his desire to annihilate the Jews with nuclear weapons. Fortunately – and also contrary to the actual story in the Book of Esther – Haman-Ahmadinejad’s request was politely rejected by the king.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (played by Tal Friedman) also made an appearance as the stubborn Queen Vashti, the character traditionally believed to have been beheaded by Ahasuerus for refusing to dance at his royal party. In the show, Obama-Ahasuerus instead argued with the queen about her violations of Palestinian human rights, telling her, “I know all about your people, you’ve occupied two million people and kept them behind the wall... You’ve launched massive military attacks on civilians.”

Later, he could be heard sighing, “I’m tired of these Jews, they make a lot of problems for me.”

In a Smith Research poll, conducted on behalf of The Jerusalem Post in August last year, Obama’s approval rating reached only 4 percent among the Israeli public, with 51% of those surveyed agreeing that his administration was more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli.

Schenker suggested that “Obama is not like the white, friendly presidents that Israelis are used to seeing, and so he is a target for satire.”

While Schenker did not consider the skit to be a direct attack against Obama by Eretz Nehederet, he did believe its portrayal of the president was indicative of more racist subtexts in Israeli society as a whole – for example, attitudes toward Ethiopian immigrants.

“In the past, Obama has been presented by Israeli satirical TV shows as dancing with African-costumed women, or emerging from African landscapes in nothing more than a loincloth,” Schenker noted. ”That is offensive. There have even been times where he has been presented as being uneducated, which is ridiculous, as he is one of the most highly educated presidents yet.”

However, Schenker felt that Eretz Nehederet wasn’t attempting to reflect local bias against Obama, but that in fact, the program was celebrated as an equal-opportunity offender. He cited other elements of strong satire within the episode – for instance, Netanyahu’s openly ridiculing Obama, and the script’s continued attacks against the government’s latest hasbara (public diplomacy) campaign.

Keshet, the channel that airs Eretz Nehederet, declined to comment.


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