Israel Drops Satirical Sketches From Bible Curriculum Over Conservative Pressure

Ultra-Orthodox, right-wing politicians slam public broadcaster's TV show poking fun at historical, biblical events for 'mocking everything that's holy'

Itay Stern
Itay Stern
The satirical show 'The Jews Are Coming,' January 15, 2013
The satirical show 'The Jews Are Coming,' January 15, 2013Credit: Michal Efrati
Itay Stern
Itay Stern

Israel's Education Ministry has removed a number of satirical video sketches entitled “The Jews are Coming” from Bible classes following protests by conservative and religious lawmakers and activists.

Until Thursday there were links posted for teachers to two sketches from Israel’s Kan Public Broadcasting Corporation on the ministry website about the story of Noah’s Ark and the biblical figure of Joseph, Jacob’s son sold by his brothers to Egypt. After pressure from right-wing activist Shai Glick, Likud central committee members and members of the Shas ultra-Orthodox party, these video links were removed.

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The ministry says the supervisor for Bible studies was checking the content of these videos and that they may be restored to the site at a later time.

In the past week Education Minister Yoav Gallant has been under public pressure to remove the link to the video because of claims that they appear to mock religion and biblical heroes. A letter sent by lawmaker Uriel Bouso of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to Gallant read: “This despicable program which mocks everything that is holy to Israel and presents anything that is holy and dear to the Jewish people in a negative and offensive light – by their laughable imitations of the characters and the gutter language which ought to be condemned … woe be unto us educators to draw lessons from the poor program. ... The damage that could be caused is unimaginable.”

Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a meeting of the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 9, 2019Credit: Mark Israel Salem

Glick’s letter to the minister says, “The Jews are Coming is a duplicitous program, a humiliating mockery that has no relevance.”

At the start of the week 10 Likud activists sent another letter to Gallant demanding the link be removed to the videos, claiming that they “make a mockery of the principles of religion, faith and tradition, and distort the story of the Bible.”

Bouso told Haaretz that he spoke to Gallant last week and asked him to take down these videos. “I saw last night that the videos had been removed, thankfully,” he said. Asked why he opposed the video despite it not being mandatory to the Bible program, he replied, “There are pupils at the regular (non-religious) schools who can get information about these biblical figures from these videos. It provides this information on a very low level. How would they learn anything about the holiness of figures like Joseph and Moses? There is enough other learning material that doesn’t come from satire shows.”

Bouso’s letter is one of a number of appeals by lawmakers in recent weeks calling for the public broadcasting authority to be punished due to this program. MK Bezalel Smotrich (National Union) asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to remove the program from Kan’s repertoire, citing a clause in the penal code that forbids any public offense to faith or religious sentiments.

Moni Moshonov playing Noah in the satirical show 'The Jews Are Coming'Credit: Kan 11

At the same time a group of Bible teachers have organized and sent a letter to the inspector of Bible studies, Anta Tsidon, that following political calls to ban the program, “We wish to serve notice that we as teachers instructing in Bible at state schools view this call as a violation of pedagogical and academic freedom in the education system.”

The teachers added that “one may argue over content but just as you cannot force someone to watch a program, you cannot ban the use of such content.” The teachers say they will continue to show the videos in their classes on the basis of professional considerations.

The creators of The Jews are Coming did not respond to a Haaretz query.

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