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Members of the national religious sector are up in arms against Channel 2 franchisee Keshet for its decision to broadcast the third season of Eretz Nehederet - the mock-news show that has topped Israel's television ratings charts since it debuted last year - on Friday night.
"It came as a complete surprise that Keshet designated a prestigious program with such a high rating for Friday night," said MK Shaul Yahalom of the National Religious Party, who appealed to Keshet in writing on the situation.
"This is the kind of program that should either be broadcast midweek, or at least rerun during the week," Yahalom said.
Yahalom also criticized the manner in which he believed Keshet, which has just begun broadcasting within the framework of a new 10-year franchise with Channel 2, has quickly abandoned the commitment to represent different sectors in Israeli society - one which, like other franchisees competing for the new Channel 2 tender this year, it had pledged to honor in the months following the tender's publication.
The program, which revolves around a series of skits interspersed with segments of mock newsroom reporting, features a cast of self-important reporters and impersonations of politicians and other public figures that combine satire and entertainment. Characterized by a combination of biting sarcasm, savage mimicry, and carnival-like mayhem, Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country), makes fun of everything from the army and the settlers to left-wing liberalism and right-wing nepotism.
In a letter posted on the Internet, the writers said that "Eretz Nehederet has established itself as the shaper of public discourseâ€¦ Israeli society at large is a partner in this program."
The observant public in Israel, the letter also said, had every right to partake of this offering, and should not tolerate being excluded from what has become one of the country's quintessential collective experiences.
However, the series of chat forums that have developed in recent weeks around several on-line petitions to broadcast Eretz Nehederet at a different time have exposed different attitudes towards the program.
Some members of the national religious sector, for instance, have berated the show for its satirical treatment of the settlers prior to disengagement - most notably in skits starring comedienne Orna Banai as the feverishly anti-disengagement settler Moria.
By contrast, Yahalom told the Post that he was interested in learning about how the secular public viewed the settlers. "Of course it's an exaggeration," he said, "but some things make me think - when I watched this character driving around with 20 (anti-disengagement) stickers on her car, it made me wonder whether perhaps two were actually enough." Although Yahalom said that at times he feels the program is tasteless, he believed it had become an integral part of Israeli culture.
"It's a program that's coined new linguistic expressions and slang, and become an integral part of the culture. If you haven't seen it on Friday night, you'll have no idea what people are talking about on Sunday."
Journalist Shooky Galilee, who grew up in the national religious community, also agreed that the protest was indicative of the sector's desire to be part of a cultural and social consensus.
Galili also said he believed that in the wake of the disengagement from Gaza, "a new and unique situation has been created, in which a new kind of criticism against the state has grown in the national religious sector."
This growing criticism, one may argue, has thus created a new alliance between left-wing liberals and right-wing religious Israelis in terms of their attitude towards official institutions and public figures.
For example, the protest last Tuesday night opposite the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem - during which women from the Talmon settlement impersonated government ministers dressed as garbage collectors and dumped pails representing different settlements in Gush Katif into the garbage - could have well been a skit on Eretz Nehederet.
One Keshet source said that the new demand not to broadcast the program on Friday night was an indication of the program's ability to "create an intelligent discourse that deals with current events and social phenomenon."
"Obviously, it's a huge compliment that people want to watch the show because they realize it not only reflects, but also produces, a social discourse," the source said.
According to Keshet, one million people watched the season premiere of Eretz Nehederet last Friday night.
"Eretz Nehederet has created a tradition of TV watching on Friday night that appeals to the entire family and to wider audiences than those previously interested in this time slot," a Keshet spokesperson told the Post.
"Eretz Nehederet was initially broadcast on Fridays. We are aware of the request being made by the religious and observant public, and we are looking into the matter," the spokesperson added.