Grumpy Old Man: It’s only television

Although it tends to get bogged down on tedium and the endless rhetoric of so many windbags, the Knesset Channel does have its great moments.

Michalei throws water at Majadele 311 (photo credit: Knesset Channel)
Michalei throws water at Majadele 311
(photo credit: Knesset Channel)
It started with a discussion about school. Someone was speaking when someone else interrupted. “Shut up,” the speaker snapped. “No, you shut up,” the interrupter retorted. It became a shouting match that escalated in tone and pace until the interrupter stood and began to walk away. But then she turned, coolly filled a glass with water and flung its contents in the speaker’s face.
“She’s crazy,” was all the drenched speaker could say at first.
A person exposed just to the description provided above might be forgiven for thinking the players were hormonal teens in a high-school cafeteria. If you see and listen to the footage, however – and you can, because it was broadcast live, with the video clip speedily going viral – you’ll see that these were not merely adults: The speaker was MK Ghaleb Majadle of Labor and the interrupter was MK Anastasia Michaeli of Israel Beiteinu, lawmakers entrusted with exercising Cleisthenes’s gift to the world. And this did not merely take place in the Knesset; it was in a session of its Education Committee.
Majadle has been known to be rude and even crude. And Michaeli has been known to get physical. In 2010, MK Haneen Zoabi, an Arab, like Majadle, was leaving the Knesset podium after explaining (to little comprehension and much anger) why she had been aboard the Mavi Marmara.
The Israel Beiteinu MK stepped forward and – again, in a live broadcast – took a swing. I have my doubts that Michaeli, a blonde former beauty queen in her native Russia and later host of a show on Israel’s Russian-language cable station, was ever voted Miss Congeniality, but she sure knows a TV camera when she sees one.
WONDERFUL THING, television – it brings the world into our living room. Yet it has its detractors, and when people say it can be a bad influence, especially on our youth, it’s possible they have the Knesset Channel in mind.
The channel began broadcasting in May 2004 (although previous incarnations were on the air long before that). According to the Knesset website, it “reveals, with full transparency, the activities of 120 Knesset members and provides the public with a high level of familiarity with the Knesset’s work.” Indeed it does.
Although it tends to get bogged down on the tedium of legislation and the endless rhetoric of so many windbags, the Knesset Channel, like war, which is nine-tenths waiting and one-tenth sheer holy terror, does have its great moments. I mean, here are 10 dozen men and women, each with a specific worldview and a healthy dose of ambition and ego. On any given Monday to Wednesday while the Knesset is in session, there’s a one-in-10 chance that in committees and the plenum you’ll get “with full transparency” anything from raunchy poetry and outlandish props to heated table-banging and boisterous shouting matches (if not the occasional Full Michaeli).
Call it Law and Disorder. Or, perhaps, the Israeli version of Jerry Springer.
An openly gay left-winger with a decidedly secular outlook on life within spitting distance of a cadre of bearded and blackclad men who say that homosexuality is an abomination and calamity God’s way of letting us know? Kahane’s progeny in the same room with Zoabi, who seems to think her constituency extends to the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank, or with MK Ahmed Tibi and his strange love for the perverted Arab notion of martyrdom? Wait till one steps up to the rostrum. Then shout right out that this person has the IQ of a toaster and people like him or her will lead the country straight to hell. Call the program Ruby! Of course, there’s also the Knesset as sitcom, although it’s been years since the genre’s glory days, when MKs such as Yosef Ba-gad and Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, like Jerry Seinfeld, successfully brought standup and a roomful of wacky cohorts to the small screen.
Flatto-Sharon, if you don’t remember, was on the lam from French authorities for fraud and used his Knesset seat as immunity.
He was so recently off the boat that he needed a translator to figure out when to raise his hand during plenum votes. Bagad, a yeshiva principal and very nice man although a bit gabby even for an MK, often opened his mouth without engaging his brain, like the time he mistakenly announced – in a live broadcast – that a soldier had been kidnapped. Instead of garnering an Emmy, the blooper sent tens of thousands of panic-stricken parents running for phones and we were left to wonder whether he wasn’t heavily invested in Bezeq or one of the then-nascent cell-phone companies.
Yes, it’s a good argument that the Knesset Channel broadcasts just as much garbage as the next. But look at the bright side: No one seems to watch it – only one reader of The Jerusalem Post wrote in about the Michaeli incident, and it was to complain that her punishment – a four-week suspension from Knesset committee meetings and plenum sessions – was unfair when compared to the punishments meted out to other MKs for poor behavior.
(Yes, the letter writer was referring specifically to Arab legislators.) Of course, the Knesset Channel does have an upside, for if our children discover that parliamentary goings-on can be as sobering as Law and Order, as weirdly compelling as Jerry Springer, as hilarious as Seinfeld and as action-packed as Nikita, complete with blonde liquidators, they’ll at least know they have a Knesset, and that’s the first lesson in teaching democracy (although from then on it would be wise for the teacher to look elsewhere for source material).
The rest of us will just have to keep trying to convince ourselves that it’s only television.