Opinion

Israel’s New Hasbara Video Channels SNL, but Offends Like South Park

The video’s liberties with history are shockingly revisionist, insulting and even racist, portraying non-Jews as primitive barbarians perpetrating serial home invasions on their hapless Jewish victims.

Assyrians taking over the a Jewish couple's home in the Foreign Ministry's new video.
Screenshot, Foreign Ministry Facebook page.

A new video posted by Israel’s Foreign Ministry was clearly designed as a humorously sympathetic version of the deep historic ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel - aimed at a generation that likes their politics delivered in Saturday Night Live-style satiric send-ups.

But the video’s liberties with history are shockingly revisionist, insulting and even racist, portraying non-Jews over 3,000 years of history as primitive barbarians perpetrating serial home invasions on their hapless Jewish victims. All aspects of the Diaspora are utterly ignored. Palestinian Arabs only enter the scene at the last moment of the video, portrayed as latecomers to the country, appearing out of nowhere only after the Jewish state was declared in 1948.

Foreign Ministry. Facebook

The video begins with a knock on the door with a sign “Jacob and Rachel - State of Israel” - the apartment of a young Israeli Jewish couple with a baby.

They open the door to what Jacob describes in a voiceover as “Two hipsters with well-groomed beards” who “probably wanna sell me an encyclopedia. I told them ‘hello, have you ever heard of Wikipedia?’”

But the “hipsters” are no salesmen. They are the Assyrians. Wielding long knives, they angrily drive the couple out of their living room into their bedroom. He continues, “So it’s now 750 BC. In about 2750 years, we’ll have some quiet here.”

A series of invaders follows, each one more chaotic and warlike, trashing the house: the Babylonians, the Hellenists, the Romans, “early Arabic era” Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes.The couple is forced to wander from their bedroom to the kids’ room to the bathroom and then into a tent. Finally, when the Ottoman Empire shows up, things settle down and they are served Turkish delight in their tent. Jacob asks, “And then it was quiet. Is it finally over? Has everyone left my house? My Land of Israel?”

But no. A British soldier knocks on their door. They serve him some tea in the living room among the wreckage of the previous tenants until he declares, “In the name of the League of Nations, we give you back your house.” They dance celebrate. “Finally, a state of our own in the Land of Israel!”

But then - a final knock at the door. It’s a Palestinian couple - a man in a kaffiyeh and a woman in hijab. They stare and shake their heads as the video ends.

The video has received 150,000 views and was shared more than 3,000 times. The high-end, two-minute video was produced by ZED Films, a production house that has created clips for the Foreign Ministry, along with other government entities.

As a piece of “hasbara” - the Israeli word for “explain” commonly used when referring to making Israel’s case on the stage of public diplomacy - the clip is rather puzzling and quite unusual.

The traditional arguments used to defend the Jewish state, while recognizing the ancient religious and historic ties to the land of Israel, also tend to strongly emphasize Israel as a critically necessary national refuge for Jews who have suffered oppression in the Diaspora.

One doesn’t need to be particularly left-wing to have serious issues with aspects of the video’s portrayal of history. Throughout the narrative, the Jewish characters are utterly passive, at no point resisting or standing up to the invaders in any way. There are no arguments, let alone armed revolts. There is no Masada in the bathroom and no Dir Yassin in the kitchen.

The Jewish story in the video also makes no mention whatsoever of anti-Semitism in the wider world, choosing to leave the Diaspora out of the story entirely. At no point over the contracted “3,000 years” does any member of the family venture out of the “Land of Israel” apartment.

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As one of the numerous critical commenters wrote on the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook post of the video, “You forgot the part when the husband turns approximately one third Christian and one third Muslim between 0-500 AD, while the wife emigrates to Spain, Russia and Germany and eventually also to Northern Africa, while sleeping around with the locals, and generally having a pretty OK time.”

While the film is undeniably well-made, it is hard to believe whether anyone who doesn’t already believe that “Rachel and Jacob” have an inalienable right to their entire apartment and need not share it with the Palestinians who come knocking at the end will find it convincing.

Whether many will find it offensive? That is certainly believable.