Monday, May 5, 2014

An Israeli Satire takes on the Word Apartheid

The popular Israeli satirical television program, Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Land, Israel Channel 2), in its show dedicated to Israel’s 66th year of independence, breathed life into US Secretarty of State John Kerry’s comments that if Israel does not reach an agreement with the Palestinians, it runs the of risk becoming an “apartheid state.”  

While the “apartheid” word is not at all new to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, being used by Palestinians, and harsh critics of Israel, to describe the two-tiered system of law applied unequally to Jews and Palestinians, both in Israel and the Occupied Territories, for Israelis it is taboo. As a result, it was no surprise that Kerry, under pressure from Democrats and Republicans alike, clarified his words, retracting his statement, in an attempt to cool the growing brouhaha in Washington.

Even if Kerry’s words were received with total disdain by the Israeli government, it seems that for some Israelis it has opened a new space for public debate. This fact is confirmed not only by a number of articles which came out in Israel following John Kerry’s statement, such as one entitled “Is this not Apartheid,” by leftist Haaretz Columnist, Gideon Levy, who points out that similar to other “forbidden words,” its high time that this word now be introduced into the Israeli lexicon.  

Jumping on the bandwagon, Eretz Nehederet decided to take a bite of the forbidden fruit, using the “A-word” in a provocative mock interview held between the program’s newscaster (Eyal Kitzis) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Mariano Idelman), which was aimed at poking fun at the government’s inability, or lack of will, at moving forward on a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The interview heats up when the newscaster asks (the pretend) Netanyahu what he thinks of Kerry’s apartheid statement, with Netanyahu trying to discard the claim of apartheid by using the “Holocaust” card, saying: “How can they say about us something to do with apartheid; especially now, only 6 days after Holocaust Memorial Day, and 359 days before the next Holocaust Memorial Day! I demand an apology from you!"

The newscaster then brings up on screen an automatic official worded apology, basically that highlights the fact that Israel is an apartheid state.

“During the television show, Eretz Nehederet, the term apartheid was used, which could be understood as if Israel is ruling two million people without civil rights; we apologize if any Jew has been offended by these words”

While Eretz Nehederet is known for striking up controversy, it seems that this episode hit another raw nerve, by also challenging Israeli politician's use of the Holocaust to stifle debate, as we saw in Netanyahu’s answer. In fact, in the same episode, the show mocked the current Minister of Education, Shai Piron’s decision to introduce Holocaust studies for children as young as first grade, in a skit that depicted a yellow Jewish star explaining the horrors of the Holocaust in a satirical way to a young child.

While some will brush off the show’s use of “apartheid” as just another attempt to force the show’s leftist agenda onto Israeli public at large, in an article on an Israeli internet website, Walla, Lilach Volach, praised the fact that after an uneventful season Eretz Nehederet decided to make some noise. She argues that even if it “took a stance that not everyone loves,” challenging the viewer “is the meaning of satire.” Volach goes on to remind that the show should kick at both the Israeli’s “right” and “left” side and “light a fire”  under the viewers’ comfortable chair.

Satire or not, it seems that the word apartheid is here to stay; while silenced in the US mainstream debate on Israel and Palestine, the fact that Eretz Nehederet touched upon it is another sign that it could become a central point of discussion in Israel. Perhaps, Lisa Goldman, in her recent article, which appears on the Israeli English news website, +972, explains it best, arguing that if this is not apartheid, then what is “a system by which a colonizing government has controlled 2.5 million people for 47 years, depriving them of their basic civil rights based on their ethnicity?”  

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