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Israel-Palestine war: Israel's TV comedians are helping to fuel the hate machine

In its attempt to boost Israeli national morale, TV show 'A Wonderful Country' has resorted to the complete dehumanisation of Palestinians in Gaza
The Israeli flag is held up at a demonstration in Petah Tikva on 17 August 2023 (AFP)

Israel’s own version of the US show Saturday Night Live has enlisted wholeheartedly in the nationwide Israeli propaganda machine, stripping Gaza residents of their humanity.

The main goal appears to be to preserve national morale.

After 7 October, Keshet 12’s flagship comedy/variety show, A Wonderful Country, switched to a special format. Not particularly noted in the past for trenchant satire, the show nonetheless occasionally permitted itself flashes of criticism. Now reconfigured for the current emergency, it has recast itself as a show named A Country at War or A Country Is Fighting.

The show has set its sights on boosting public morale. And if boosting public morale these days demands the complete dehumanisation of Palestinians in Gaza, then that is what the show will deliver.

The episode that aired this past Sunday started with the usual sketches ridiculing public figures, including extremist commentator Eliyahu Yossian (who has likened all Palestinians in Gaza to “terrorists”).

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His heavy Iranian accent was plucked like ripe fruit by comedian Eli Finish, who portrayed Yossian as a zany jerk fond of mispronouncing fancy words, such as “terminology”, while opining on a war of hummus versus sushi. 

Programme host Eyal Kitzis, as the moderator representing the voice of reason around the table, noted that Yossian’s calls to commit war crimes in Gaza were damaging Israeli propaganda abroad.

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Next came a few minutes of flattery for Israeli TV journalist Danny Kushmaro. Then, the show segued to a predictable, banal skit with junior cabinet ministers sitting at a conference table loaded with platters of bourekas, and arguing about which ministry would have its budget slashed to finance the war.

But the main event was a skit introduced by Kitzis, who told viewers that “while the [Israeli army] is pounding Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the battle for public opinion is happening on the networks”.

Palestinians, he said, “post a lot of videos about harming civilians, but their credibility is questionable".

The idea was to mock the clips that Palestinians post of their suffering and the devastating bloodbath in Gaza.

To drive the point home, Kitzis treated us to one of the vile hate sketches that have been broadcast, not only on A Country at War but nearly everywhere on Israeli television. 

Fake news

As an opening, “Pallywood Studios are proud to present” clearly intends to convey that the horror images from Gaza to follow are fake news. 

To deny Palestinian suffering and pain, Finish portrayed all the characters we would see in the next few minutes: “Assi Gaza” (think: the late Assi Dayan, noted Israeli actor and filmmaker, and son of famous military leader Moshe Dayan), purporting to be “the number one influencer” in Gaza; a wounded Palestinian and his mother; a Palestinian journalist reporting from the ground; and even Palestinian American supermodel Bella Hadid.

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The skit opens with "Assi Gaza" and a parody of a viral video from Gaza in which a young man brags about the rockets Palestinian fighters have launched at Israel. In the next scene, he is shown lying in a hospital bed and crying: "I’m dead, a plane shot at me."

While moaning that he is "covered in blood", the man realises there is not a drop of blood on him. The director standing nearby hands him a bottle of ketchup and instructs the crew to shoot another take.

The supposedly wounded man then cries that "the juice in the IV has run out", at which point his mother (also played by Finish) arrives. Her crying is also staged and re-recorded.

In another scene, several bodies covered with plastic sheets are laid out on the ground. One of the “corpses” (yes, Finish again) suddenly sneezes, ruining the shot. Finish apologises, and the segment is reshot. 

This vile mocking of Palestinian suffering in Gaza was applauded appreciatively by the audience, which included evacuees from southern Israel, and we move on to the next segment, a childish harangue about the "antisemitic left" at American universities.

The dimensions of Israel’s current campaign of slaughter are beyond anything the Gaza Strip has known in the past.

More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women, children, and the elderly, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

As images of this unimaginable horror flood global media, A Wonderful Country opts to tell the Israeli public: "Dont worry, it’s all fake news, guys. Keep up your morale."

In this propaganda-fed universe, thousands of children in Gaza are not being torn to pieces by Israeli bombing. There are no mothers collapsing over the bodies of their children; no bombed hospitals without medicine or equipment; no shortages of food, water, and fuel; no million-plus displaced people; and no destruction or devastation.

And of course, Israel never uses phosphorous bombs there. 

A culture of fascism

Since the start of this war, the only message conveyed to the public by the overwhelming majority of Israeli media has been how utterly righteous Israel is.

Images of the horrors in Gaza, seen all over the world, are not broadcast. Nor is “enemy propaganda”, such as the recent speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

A culture of fascism is not created by a rotted leadership, but by all those people who enlist in the machinery of silencing, hiding, distorting and dehumanising the 'Other'

At the same time, the Knesset has passed new legislation to criminalise the consumption of “terrorist” content, to make sure that we do not - God forbid! - obtain elsewhere the information that Big Brother is ensuring we cannot get from mainstream sources at home.

Fascism does not suddenly appear overnight. It is created through a long process in which a society chooses “national resilience” over criticism, a soothing lie over painful truth, and national morale over collective soul-searching.

A culture of fascism is not created by rotten leadership, but by all those people who enlist in the machinery of silencing, hiding, distorting, and dehumanising the “other” in the name of unity.

If they really wanted to contribute something significant to the public debate, the folks at A Wonderful Country could, for example, dedicate their programme to the fate of the more than 200 hostages still in the hands of Palestinian fighters, as the cries of their families disappear amid the noise of war and the joy of revenge. 

Instead, A Wonderful Country has opted to join the Israeli propaganda machine, which is engaged in a shocking process of stripping the people of Gaza of their humanity.

After all, if the Israeli public were to consider, for even one second, the possibility that there are also human beings on the other side, how could we continue to slaughter them and their children, and feel so righteously justified?

And if we should doubt our righteousness, what would then happen to national morale? 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Orly Noy is the chair of B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
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