Israel's Master Chef show - Tomer Appelbaum - Nov. 18, 2010
Behind the scenes of Israel's Master Chef show on Nov. 18, 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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At first glance, it doesn't seem like a terribly significant development - yet it gives pause for thought, not to mention concern: The combined ratings of last Friday's evening newscasts on the two commercial television channels totaled only about 25 percent. That means only one-fourth of television viewers evinced interest in the speeches delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations - a key event in the history of the ongoing conflict between the two peoples.

This proportion would not have seemed so low had it not turned out that, just 24 hours later, on Saturday night, a new record was set for the highest rating ever recorded since ratings were introduced in the 1990s: About half of all Israeli television viewers - some 1.5 million people - sat glued to the concluding episode of Channel 2's reality television show "Master Chef," an amateur cooking contest judged by professional chefs. These chefs have become icons of Israeli popular culture, as have the amateur cooks themselves, especially those who made it to the final episode.

"Master Chef," a spin-off of the popular BBC reality show that was created in the early 1990s and that has since spread to many countries, is not harmful in and of itself. It isn't aggressive or humiliating like so many other imported reality shows; indeed, it is rather pleasant. Nevertheless, the sharp contrast between the disinterest in real diplomatic events and the addiction to the delights of television "reality" is both saddening and worrisome.

Netanyahu's speech at the United Nations, the makeup and behavior of the Israeli delegation, the government's conduct in recent months and the bitter reality that Abbas' speech reflected all made clear to Israelis once again that they are walking blindly down a tunnel with no exit. And this is a depressing message. So, in its anguish, it seems that most of the public prefers to escape to visions of stuffed meats, spiced with sentimental emotion.

But Israelis shouldn't be accused of escapism. Instead, they should be pitied for having been pushed against their will into a dangerous process of depoliticization, amid a society that is turning its back on the reality that is truly relevant to its life and fate.