There aren’t many national stages in Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t yet appeared on. But Tuesday, for the first time, in honor of Israel’s Independence Day, he stepped onto the stage of Eretz Nehederet ("A Wonderful Country"), a show that has devoted a great deal of time over its ten-year history to ridiculing him.
The show, the Israeli equivalent of Saturday Night Live, is such a staple of Israeli entertainment that President Barack Obama even worked it into his speech during his recent visit to Israel, when he said “I want to clear something up just so you know - any drama between me and my friend, Bibi, over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet. That’s the only thing that was going on. We just wanted to make sure the writers had good material.”
On the show, which is a type of extended “Weekend Update” news show parody, the Prime Minister took his place behind the news desk next to “anchorman” Eyal Kitzis as well as the actor who portrays him on the show, Mariano Idelman, in an identical suit and blue tie.
Netanyahu discussed his official duties on Israel Independence Day, then turned to the ‘anchorman’ behind the desk and asked him “So let’s get down to it. Which ministry do you want, Education or Finance?“
When the anchor looked puzzled, Netanyahu said, “I know you people, you all end up in politics, so let’s just get it over with!” Netanyahu was alluding to the many former journalists now serving in the Knesset, most prominently Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
In a show of good sportsmanship of jokes at his own expense, he licked a pistachio ice cream cone - his fondness for the frozen treats and the high ice cream budget for his residence recently sparked a mini-scandal.
After Netanyahu said he was ‘serious’ about peace, asking the prime minister whether, if Palestinian leader Abu Mazen met all his conditions, he would be ready “sign on the bottom line.” Netanyahu answered with what appeared to be some hesitation, saying “bring me the paper and we’ll sit down talk.” His satiric counterpart played by Idelman quickly interjected “That means, don’t worry, we’ll string them along for another four years.”
Kitzis then asked Netanyahu whether, as time goes by with no final settlement and Israel and the West Bank become more intertwined, “Aren’t you afraid of a binational state?” to which Netanyahu shot back “I don’t want that, but I want my state, the only Jewish state, to remain steadfast and strong forever. That’s what I worry about and that’s what I’ll make sure happens.”
Kitzis complimented Netanyahu on the diplomatic breakthrough with Turkey and asked him about it. “So how did it work, Obama called up Erdogan on the phone and said 'Bibi’s here next to me, do you want to talk to him?'" “Something like that,” chuckled Netanyahu.
“And after you apologized to him, did you call up Lieberman and apologize for the apology?” Kitzis asked.
On domestic matters, when Kitzis asked Netanyahu whether he thought Yair Lapid, his new political threat, would succeed as Finance Minister, Netanyahu responded with a clear dig at Lapid’s fondness for communicating with voters through social media. “That’s too serious a question for television. Let’s talk about it on Facebook.”