When an Israeli TV News Channel Discovers God

Israeli nationalism has changed, so the people at Channel 2 News have realized that even the most urgent reports, delivered in the most patriotic tones, aren’t enough.

Channel 2

Channel 2 News has around half a million followers on its Facebook page. It has earned them honestly. With the dismantling of Channel 1, Channel 2 News is now Israel’s most veteran television news outfit, which in its 23 years has broadcast the events of our lives, coined a catchy albeit somewhat robotic style of delivery, and nurtured dozens of journalists who have become household names. It’s the closest thing we have to a national broadcaster.

But Israeli nationalism has changed recently, and it seems the news company wants to change with it. Anyone perusing Facebook Sunday evening may have encountered a post by Channel 2 News promoting the “weekly lesson by Sivan Rahav Meir.” On the menu was an hour-long Torah lecture by one of Israel’s most well-known broadcasters.

The subjects of Rahav Meir’s sermon were the reasons for the destruction of ancient Jerusalem. With the Channel 2 News logo displayed alongside her, the journalist spoke about the debasing of Torah scholars and the violation of the Sabbath. In between she incorporated anecdotes from her and our lives like her visits to the prime minister’s residence, the distress she experienced because the medieval commentator Rashi isn’t taught in school, threats by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the pursuit of “likes” on Facebook.

Anyone who dared complain about the non-news on the Facebook page had to endure a cold shower of responses along the lines of “If you don’t want it, don’t watch it.” Channel 2 News adopted that response when it wrote: “We don’t force anything on our viewers. They have free choice of what to watch.”

But one can’t help but wonder about this weird combination. What does a Torah lesson have to do with news?

The answer is that there’s no connection; Channel 2 News has simply discovered God. More accurately, the people at the news company have realized (slightly late) that even the most urgent reports, delivered in the most patriotic tones, aren’t enough. When challah-separating ceremonies attract thousands of secular women, and even the TV satire “Eretz Nehederet” (“A Wonderful Country”) devotes sketches to the newly observant, one must give the people the added value they demand, something that someone else is providing them too successfully.

Only two clicks on the remote control separate Channel 2 viewers from Channel 20, which won the license to broadcast Jewish heritage programming but can’t resist the temptation to report news. Only last week it was fined another 150,000 shekels ($39,400) for broadcasting from the site of a terror attack.

Tomer Appelbaum

It seems the battle raging between channels 2 and 20 reflects the two most important components in the contemporary Israeli identity. On the one hand there’s an obsession with the news, grounded in the incessant threat to the Jewish state’s existence. On the other there’s the response: national resilience steeped in the religious roots that award the Jewish people possession of the land.

Both channels realize that broadcasting the threat without the response, or the response without the threat, doesn’t let them reach the public’s heart. Both seek to integrate these two worlds of content, even at the price of turning into identical twins.

We are decreed to live in a state that hasn’t been able to separate itself from religion, so don’t expect media outlets seeking ratings to separate the holy from the mundane. In Israel, those who go to sleep with the watchdogs of democracy shouldn’t be surprised if they wake up with preachers.