In its elaborate four-minute musical video designed to greet tourists coming to Israel for the Eurovision Song Contest, the government broadcaster Kan chose to address critics upfront and demonstrate a sense of humor in the campy spirit of the event.
But after its release Friday morning, many of its attempts at tongue-in-cheek joking fell flat with both domestic and overseas viewers, who called it “embarrassing” and “cringeworthy.”
Over the course of the day, the controversy mounted to the point where the broadcaster felt it necessary to tweet defensively that the video was “satire and was meant to deal with stereotypes about Jews and Israel” through “self-deprecating humor.”
The video features Lucy Ayoub - one of the hosts of the Eurovision, to be held in Tel Aviv on May 18 - and Elia Grinfeld, a Kan journalist. The video opens with the two greeting a pair of fearful European travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport.
They attempt to reassure them, singing: “Don’t say a word, I know what you just heard, that it’s a land of war and occupation. But we have so much more than that; you’ll see the prices and say 'what?' We like to call ourselves the Start-Up Nation.”
The self-appointed tour guides then take to a stage to introduce themselves and their countrymen: “I’m Lucy, I’m Arab. Yes some of us live here. I’m Elia. I’m Russian. We fled there out of fear. In fact most Israelis have complex identities. That is why we all look at each other here as frenemies.”
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In a musical “quick indoctrination,” they head out to recommend sites to see and food to eat and drink in the country.
Two of the most-discussed controversial moments in the video take place when the tourists interact with a shopkeeper as Elia sings: “Most of us are Jews but only some of us are greedy,” before grabbing his guests’ change at a money changing booth. Lucy then sings “And you might notice people here are very, very needy,” while a pickpocket reaches for their stuff while they wait for the train, on which their hosts inform them that it’s better to stay off the roads because Israeli drivers will put them “in mortal danger.”
Later, Elia’s invitation to “enjoy our lovely beaches” in Tel Aviv is translated in the English subtitles to “lovely bitches.” The issue of whether the mistranslation was an error or a deliberate attempt to poke fun at bad pronunciation has been discussed extensively on Twitter.
The video was decisively slammed from the left by the pro-BDS Jewish Voice for Peace - no fans of the Israeli Eurovision in the first place - which called it “anti-Semitism and misogyny set to music.”
In a rare moment of agreement with BDS advocates, pro-Israel right-wingers were equally disgusted and frustrated that the country they spend their time and energy defending would shoot itself in the foot in this way. Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, tweeted in Hebrew that the video was “anti-Semitic” and attacked it as a waste of taxpayers' money.
Even those who are less invested in left or right-wing advocacy noted that at a time when Jews in Europe - the video’s target audience - and beyond are dealing with a rising tide of anti-Semitism, elements of the humor - particularly the “greedy Jews” line - were ill-advised.
The video had its defenders, however. Some appreciated the humor and said that it did exactly what it was designed for: reflecting the country’s brazen spirit and ability to laugh at itself.