Battling BDS, one laugh at a time

TSAHI HALEVI and Adi Himelbloy play for laughs in a scene from ‘Mossad.’ (photo credit: ‘MOSSAD’)
TSAHI HALEVI and Adi Himelbloy play for laughs in a scene from ‘Mossad.’
(photo credit: ‘MOSSAD’)
I was prepared for drama but found comic relief instead. Having abstained from all news updates for the two-day Jewish New Year holiday, when I turned on the television on Tuesday night, it was with some trepidation. I had no idea what had been going on while I had been busy recharging my spiritual batteries and eating massive meals with friends. Although the news was not encouraging, it was much of the same as when I had last tuned in. There had been no major terror attack and war had not broken out. It’s sadly telling how relieved I felt.
Suitably relaxed, and feeling lazy from all the food, I kept the TV on after the evening news broadcast and found myself watching a funny program. Funny in both senses of the word.
KAN Channel 1 screened a quasi-documentary called Diplomatic Relations, which followed the efforts of stand-up artists Shahar Hason and Yohay Sponder to beat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in London, a BDS stronghold. Many of their antics were cringe-worthy. And, as Sponder noted, despite several years of performing abroad, their English is still at the level of a guy “who sells flip-flops in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market.” Nonetheless, they might be onto something: Instead of tackling the serious matter of BDS and antisemitism head-on, they want to take a different approach, hitting back at hatred one joke at a time.
“People say we control the media. If we control the media, we should use it to promote ourselves a little better, like having secret commercials between shows: ‘Nike, Jews do it!” or ‘It keeps going and going and going and going. Enerjewser.’”
In between gags that made me gag, there were some fascinating snatches of interviews. In one scene, the comic duo stop passersby to invite them to their free comedy show. One Iranian woman admits that she would be happy to see Israelis perform, but she would be arrested on her return if it were ever known.
Describing SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) at London University as “The Western Wall of BDS,” the couple decide the campus is the best place to hand out flyers, prominently featuring the Israeli flag. Warned of possible violent protests at the show, Hason notes, “It’s not funny when someone throws a bottle at you... you can’t smile with broken teeth.”
Some people refuse to talk with them the minute they discover the duo is from Israel. Others come out with the usual tropes about “killing children, etc. etc.” A young Kuwaiti woman describes having grown up with the word “Yahudi” (Jew) being a swearword, which she describes as “pathetic.” “Being educated” and having met Israelis and Palestinians and having “seen the way they are integrated,” she rejects the racism that surrounded her in her youth. The nearest Hason and Sponder have to an unscripted comic exchange is when the Kuwaiti jokingly tells them, “We say you guys stole our food,” giving humous as an example.
Although they meet some supporters of Israel, it’s clear not everyone is a fan. Sponder recalls a woman coming up to him at a hotel breakfast and saying in a very pointed manner:
“You’re from Israel right?”
“It’s very offensive when someone recognizes your accent before you’ve even said anything,” the comedian remarks, in one of the program’s better lines.
I LIKE the idea that it’s time to stand up for ourselves through stand-up, among other means. Better to deliver punchlines than be the punching bags. It’s healthy to be able to laugh at ourselves and it beats BDS bitterness. Two days after last month’s election, the Government Press Office and Foreign Ministry arranged for a special screening of a new movie called Mossad. The comedy was presented as the perfect break from politics and a good way to help Israel’s image.
The satire directed by Alon Gur Arye has a star-studded cast, including heartthrob Tsahi Halevi of Fauda fame in his first comic role. Halevi plays a bumbling spy called Guy Moran (and you can imagine how that surname turns out in English.)
When he gives a woman his card, she says: “But it’s blank.”
“That’s because I’m a secret agent,” he replies.
The save-the-world plot in which the Mossad and the CIA compete and collaborate is totally implausible, but many of the one-liners are brilliant and the slapstick stunts are well-executed. When the evil masterminds capture an American billionaire in Jerusalem, they come up against a henpecked Mossad chief whose sole aim is to finish his term without incident and to get to light one of the torches on Independence Day. The (obviously unreal) Mossad head, played by Ilan Dar, demands a videotape of the hostages holding a newspaper showing the date. This leads RBG (the “Real Bad Guys”) to scream: “Who can even find videotape anymore? Nobody reads a newspaper!”
Unlike Diplomatic Relations, where the idea is good, but the performance is at times painful, I can happily recommend Mossad. Gur Arye admits that the film was inspired by gag-filled American movies such as Top Secret! and that making it was a dream come true. Noting that most of his Israeli peers want to make dramas, he preferred parody.
“And I wanted to spoof something very Israeli,” he explained in a panel after the screening.
Gur Arye was lucky and talented enough to get veteran Israeli director Avi Nesher and American director David Zucker (of the Airplane and the Naked Gun franchise) on board and the film definitely has Zucker’s wacky touch.
Halevi said that he had enjoyed his first venture into comedy. He had no problem poking fun at the Mossad, even though his father had worked for The Organization.
“A society that laughs at itself shows it is confident,” he told the audience.
Gur Ayre said they held a special screening for Mossad employees, who laughed in all the right places. I guess that makes it a Mossad hit.
Not surprisingly, some people mistake the movie’s social media site for the more serious one and send messages with various tips and information (which Gur Arye says are passed on). More surprisingly, some of the fan mail has come from Iran.
Perhaps, this goes to prove the point that sharing a joke works wonders and, as the Iranian woman in Hason and Sponder’s program said, “I’m on your side.” Not everyone out there is against us.
The tragedy is that the Iranians aren’t even allowed to openly laugh at themselves, while Israelis love to make fun at their own foibles and failings.
MOST SATIRES are too good to be true, but the screening of the Israeli TV miniseries Douze Points had to be postponed because it hit too close to home. The KAN broadcasting company rushed to complete the three-part series before Israel hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in May. The comedy’s plot centers on France sending a gay Muslim singer as its representative to the contest, unaware that the performer is being coerced by ISIS into carrying out a mega-attack during the final in Tel Aviv. The plot took an unexpected twist when France really did choose a gay Muslim singer as its contestant. The French authorities did not find the situation funny and threatened to pull out of the event if the Israeli TV series was screened as planned. The European Broadcasting Union reportedly issued a warning that screening the series ahead of the event could have “significant security, political and legal ramifications.”
KAN backed down and screened it after the Tel Aviv Eurovision was safely and successfully over.
But you’ve gotta laugh: I mean, we’ve all heard of life imitating art, but you don’t expect the “art” in question to be a slapstick comedy.
We don’t control the world’s banks. We’re not even on the way to it. But at least we can have the last laugh.
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