Leftists in Israel display embarrassing enthusiasm whenever leading satirists on American TV make any mention of the political and diplomatic situation here. Every time one of them talks about the goings on here, my Facebook feed is immediately flooded with delighted, admiring shares.
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This smacks of provincialism. For the dwindling number of Israelis with a universal viewpoint, who feel emotionally closer to New York, Los Angeles, London and Berlin than to Ashdod, Yeroham and Acre, what seems banal, vulgar and common on [Israeli satirical TV shows] Eretz Nehederet and Gav Hauma, appears high quality and prestigious when it comes from America. But it also points to a huge hunger for a certain kind of satire that Israeli television deliberately excludes.
Take John Oliver for example. Like his mentor Jon Stewart, he sits for half an hour presenting, in a satirical air, an opinionated, reasoned, unapologetically biased statement, whose liberal agenda is obvious. He doesn’t come merely to entertain. He comes to convey a piercing message in an entertaining tone. There’s a difference.
Israeli television doesn’t have even one show like this. No opinionated, controversial Israeli journalist has been given the scope of freedom of speech that comes even close to Oliver’s. You won’t find any such thing on content providers Hot or Yes and certainly not on the other channels.
I deliberately called Oliver a “journalist.” Stewart is also a journalist. They are journalists with comic skills. Journalists who use humor as their main work tool. But they’re not comedians. A comedian intends to make you laugh. A journalist like Oliver uses humor to convey a researched, well-argued message. A funny journalist is immeasurably more dangerous to the government than a comedian. None of Israeli television’s channels have one funny journalist like that. And if there ever is one (there won’t be, but let’s assume for the sake of argument there is), he won’t be a leftist. Because the television chiefs are afraid of the rightist majority’s anger. That’s bad for business. In this industry, “Tel Avivian” is a four-letter word.
Stewart and Oliver don’t teach us anything about Benjamin Netanyahu, but they do teach us something about freedom of speech. When Jon Stewart called the applause for Netanyahu in Congress “the longest blowjob a Jewish man has ever received” there was no Lior Shlein [Israeli comedy show host] beside him to balance him.
In Tuesday’s program Oliver referred to Netanyahu. Unlike Stewart, he didn’t shine and wasn’t funny. He was much more impressive in a monologue analyzing how local authorities in America exploit the poor who owe fines. He presented a well-built argument and examples to demonstrate his point. It was an original answer to an ancient journalistic problem – how to turn important research into an interesting item. The format is simple, and yet you won’t get to see it in Hebrew. Satirical research is something that arouses people to think. It influences. It changes opinions. The captains of Israeli TV don’t want to deal with such a headache.