Rogel Alpher made some insightful observations in his Haartez column of March 27. He clarified the local Israeli left-wing mindset as to who is permitted to broadcast satire. He bemoaned the lack of American-style satire shows in Israel, such as those hosted by Jon Stewart or John Oliver. He was not looking for mere entertainment, but for the presentation of “an opinionated, reasoned, unapologetic view, whose liberal agenda is obvious.” He is very much bothered that “Israeli television deliberately excludes” such programs.
For Alpher, Oliver and Stewart “are journalists with comic skills...to convey a researched, well-argued message.”
They expose their audiences to “satirical research” which “influences...[and] changes opinions.”
Satire has long been a staple of our television programming. Older folk will recall Nikui Rosh (Head Cleaning) and Zehu Zeh (That’s That) broadcast on TV Channel 1 in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, in the late nineties, influenced by the British Spitting Image program, TV Channel 2 gave us the Hebrew version, called the Chartzufim.
These were followed later by Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) and Matzav HaUmmah (The State of the Nation) programs, among others.
The names of the programs changed, governments changed, and even sometimes the actors changed, but the messages and the writers remained the same: Israeli satire originated from the far Left. It was pro-secular, anti-religious, pro-cosmopolitan and anti-settler. It took satire to the extreme. Chartzufim for example included two outrageous skits, one portraying the Shas rabbinical council as a group of dancing ayatollahs and another with two Ashkenazi haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) sitting at an outdoor café being served the dismembered head of a secular Israeli on a plate of lettuce.
On February 17, 2009, Eretz Nehederet presented a clip portraying a “settler family.”
While the mother ironed clothes on the back of an Arab, the grandfather took out a gun and shoots another Arab (or an IDF soldier) and a daughter shouts “Nazi” and “Hitler” at anyone she does not like.
Complaints aplenty were made, but were all rebuffed by Giora Rozen who, at the time, was complaints commissioner for the Second Authority of TV and Radio (SATR).
His response was: “The materials used were brought to the forefront of the public discourse by the minority group who used them. This group is now surprised about the language and reality which the satire uses to present the lightheadedness, the price of extremism and their own strong language.”
The commissioner was not worried about the fact that such a clip could create hatred between Israelis and depicted Jews with Nazi-like imagery. Worse, he permitted a situation whereby all “settlers” are put under one roof as crazy Arab-hating Jews.
This type of pandering, racist satire is characteristic.
On June 4, 2012, Eretz Nehederet related to the support Likud MKs Miri Regev and Danny Danon gave to south Tel Aviv residents in their struggle against the illegal residents in their neighborhood. Both MKs were depicted as Nazis deporting innocent civilians. Danon was presented as Hitler.
Complaints were answered by Yehudit Levit from TV Channel 2, who responded: “The...program is satirical. The purpose of the clip was to present the public discourse over the issue of the infiltrators. Satirical programs are naturally characterized by going to the limit in the presentation of issues and deal with them so as to bring about criticism and thought. This can sometimes also sometimes hurt the feelings of viewers,” concluding, “The value of freedom of speech supersedes any feelings which are hurt by the program.”
This year, for the first time in the more than four decades of Israel’s broadcasting history, a satirical program which presented itself as Zionist and not extreme Left was permitted to be aired over the IBA’s Channel 1. It took over four years of negotiations before the director general of the IBA, Yona Wiesenthal, was brave enough to declare that satire is legitimate independent of which part of the political spectrum it comes from.
To be sure, the Hakol Shafit (We’ll Be the Judge) program was balanced by another show, HaYehudim Ba’im (The Jews Are Coming), which preceded it. This latter program’s main message was to make fun of anything and everything holy and honorable in our Jewish heritage. Of course, Hayehudim Ba’im hurt people’s feelings but, as already explained, this is what satire does and freedom of expression is a higher good.
Or is it? On April 2, Hakol Shafit’s show included a segment in which a young woman named Chloe relates how she fell in love with a Muslim boy named Amir. This eventually led to tragedy, as Amir forces her to convert to Islam and then murders her when she refuses to allow him to take a second wife.
The reactions from the Left and Arabs were sharp; the principle of freedom of speech was forgotten. MK Zuhair Bahloul (Labor) said that this was “horrifying and shocking...
one must ask whether this is not the freedom of incitement. I demand from the IBA to exercise discretion and forbid the transmission of this skit. Otherwise we might lose our elementary sensitivity to a whole segment of the population.”
The same Bahloul, when presenting a radio program on the A-Shams radio station, did not hesitate to explain why he visited Mohammed Bakri, the producer of Jenin, the “documentary” that libeled IDF soldiers, saying: “I showed solidarity with a great artist and actor, in order to pour some cold water on the racist campaign against a personality who can only be admired.”
Bahloul had no sensitivity for the IDF soldiers. He did not consider that such libel only leads to further hatred and even provide justification for some hotheads to take the law into their own hands. In this case, freedom of speech was much more important.
MK Michal Rozin from Meretz described the clip as racist, misogynistic and inciting.
Channel 1 then censored it. Why is it that our self-proclaimed liberals know how to be liberal with other people’s feelings but not their own? Adam Gopnik, reviewing on January 26 in The New Yorker Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, Submission, whose theme is an Islamic takeover of France, wrote about the essence of satire: “He likes to take what’s happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening. That’s what satirists do.” A “sincere satirist” is one who is “genuinely saddened by the absurdities of history and the madnesses of mankind. He doesn’t ‘delight in depicting our follies.’” What is good for Europe suddenly is unacceptable for our cultural elite here in Israel? Indeed, the response of Avishai Ivri, one of the writers of the We’ll Be The Judge program, to the Walla news site was along the same lines: “The skit deals with an English girl from London whose name is Chloe and the topic is the radical Islam in Europe, not necessarily in Israel.”
But he who laughs last laughs best. The act of censorship was the best advertising that the Hakol Shafit program could ask for.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.