Media Comment: The 'joke' is on us

The powers that be decided that only Hayehudim Ba’im will go on air at the end of this month. Why? We don’t know exactly.

BBC Microphone (photo credit: REUTERS)
BBC Microphone
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a normal country, one which prides itself on a sincere commitment to values of democracy, professionalism and ethical behavior, those who have been entrusted with working on behalf of the common good would do so without prejudice and would elevate the common good above their own personal beliefs.
That is the basic approach we citizens would expect of our politicians, our police, our judges and the employees of the various public broadcasting networks that, by law, are charged, as is the new public broadcasting corporation, to provide a service that is “independent, aimed at the general public... and providing a fair, equal and balanced expression of the views and opinions generally held by the public.”
Last week, in what would seem to be a more normal country than Israel, Great Britain, Rona Fairhead, chairwoman of the BBC Trust, warned Culture Secretary John Whittingdale that she was “very concerned” that he might be negligent in his duty if he were to ignore the views of the public. Her remarks came in response to the report “that some of the 190,000 responses to the government consultation on the BBC were too ‘left wing.’” In her letter to him, made public, she referred to newspaper reports that a second ministry, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, would be launching its own inquiry amid concerns that the consultation on the future of the corporation had been “hijacked by a leftwing campaigning group.” In an interview at the end of January, Fairhead defended the corporation’s presenters, saying “they are from all political views, so I would say I know just how hard the BBC works [at impartiality],” but last August she also had “called for the public to be given a greater say in deciding its [the BBC’s] destiny.”
Do our broadcasting directors, producers and editors seek to integrate in their shows and programs a balanced reflection of the general public’s views in their entertainment and satire programs or do they engage in elitist disdain for those views and seek to “reeducate” the citizens? The question is of course a rhetorical one. Those who ran the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and those who are running the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation do not care what we the public really think of them, notwithstanding the slogan “The Broadcasting Authority – yours and for you” repeated many time daily.
The latest escapade has to do again with “satire.”
After four years of dithering, last year the IBA had no choice but to allow, for the first time in Israel’s history, the broadcasting of an openly Zionist-oriented satirical program – Hakol Shafit – (“We’ll Be the Judge”). To be sure, this was “balanced” by a different program – Hayehudim Ba’im (‘The Jews Are Coming’) – aimed at making fun of everything Jewish, right-wing or Zionist.
This year, the public funding of the Broadcasting Authority will again go toward airing Hayehudim Ba’im. However, Hakol Shafit will not be shown. It was rejected at the outset despite the fact that if the ratings were compared, it should have merited a second season as well. Balance? Only when the programming comes from the Right need there be balance, it appears.
And why has only Hakol Shafit been eliminated from the broadcasting schedule? Did they try to find a replacement? It isn’t like there is no other source for good satire. Consider the Underdos website. “Dos” is the Yiddish pronunciation of “dati,” religious.
The creators of this website and its clips took it upon themselves to take an insightful and funny look especially into the national religious segment of Israel’s population.
They introduce themselves as follows: “A group of four problematic religious comedians. They have become notorious, and even wellknown, rabbis and public figures have scathingly denounced them...
The Underdoses express their deep regrets for this distress and simultaneously deny the accusations against them. To purify their names the Underdoses have taken upon themselves the burden of posting video clips which reflect their positive image.”
The troupe was conceived by Nadav Naveh, an alumnus of the Kiryat Shemona Hesder Yeshiva and the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts. Together with his study buddy at the yeshiva, Matan Tzur, they discussed the initiative and the two suggested their proposition to another former study partner Yair Ya’akobi, who considered it deeply for five seconds and agreed to join the venture. Finally, they added a fourth partner, Asher Ben- Abu, who they knew from joint service in the army, although admitting that they had their hesitations since he came from a different Hesder yeshiva. Their first clip was put on the Internet in January 2012.
For those of you who would argue that the Authority cannot even consider the Underdoses due to gender discrimination, don’t worry, their clips have many women starring in them, such as Na’ama Kleinman, Tamar Shilo and Avital Ben-Gad.
But all this to no avail. The powers that be decided that only Hayehudim Ba’im will go on air at the end of this month. Why? We don’t know exactly.
To introduce the new season, a promo was released. It’s a song parodying the many names God has in Judaism (except for the unprounceable Tetragrammaton). In the boring two-minute clip, the actors also manage to display their posteriors toward their creator. Moni Moshonov, one of the series’ lead actors, starts to say the first two syllables of the Tetragrammaton and then, poof! He disappears. Is that funny or derogatory? One of the younger figures on the show, 46-year-old Yossi Marshak (Moshonov is 64), does not hide his motivation, which as reported on Ynet is to create anger, the more the merrier. In the IBA’s February 4 press release, he admitted they didn’t even think they would merit a second season. Well, he must be laughing now.
We have urgently requested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu (who is also communications minister) hold off the broadcasting of the series’ new season until it is balanced by another program. We have also alerted Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev to the situation.
You can do the same. After all, it’s the public broadcasting service, no? Or, will the joke continue to be on us.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s