The late LATMA?

star-latmaDoes anyone have a spare 2.6 million shekels?Latma Character

Like millions of viewers I tune in regularly to Eretz Nehederet (lit. A Wonderful Land), Israel’s weekly satirical programme. Few can deny the brilliant acting and writing. It was only when I heard one of my heroes Daniel Seaman, Deputy Director General for Information at the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, describe them as attacking Israel but only from the Left that I began to look at them more critically.

When I heard that Muli Segev, Eretz Nehederet’s editor in chief had bragged in an interview in Haaretz that his show was directly responsible for the Likud-Beiteinu party’s loss of several Knesset seats that I realised that a balance was needed.

Israel is surely big enough for a show that ridicules B’Tzelem and Peace Now, manipulative Arab politicians and agenda driven, left-wing media bias itself? These are targets conspicuously missing from Eretz Nehederet’s aim.

latma-logoFor about five years now that alternative has been LATMA ( translation from Arabic: ‎ “slap in the face”) edited by another heroine of mine, Caroline Glick. In particular the mock news show The Tribal Update featuring anchors Ronit Shapira (née Avrahamof) who plays a stereotypical left-wing journalist and Elchanan Even-Chen who  plays the voice of reason and conservatism or if you are so inclined right-wing journalist. All the episodes are viewable on YouTube.

In truth, I don’t believe the labels right and left-wing have any real predictive, informative value. I wrote about it in Compass Points, at the beginning of the year. In Israel, at least since Yitschak Rabin threw all the traditional Left’s eggs into the one Oslo Accords basket, Left has come to mean an overt acceptance of the Arab narrative. In an example of nature mimicking art Mrs. Shapira and her children narrowly escaped injury when the car driven by her husband was ambushed by Palestinian stone throwers. I don’t think it (or daily assaults by Palestinians) made the main-stream-media, a good example of the problem.

If reports are correct, the satirical programme LATMA is due to cease production at the end of the month. Although it costs perhaps a tenth to produce of the competing and leading political satire show Eretz Nehederet the money has run out. The cost is around $725,000 so if you have a sum like that lying around the house give Caroline Glick a call.

Why bother?

Popular television programs exert a more powerful influence than election campaign broadcasts whose purpose is to convey information about the parties and candidates.

Yuval Karniel and Amit Lavie-Dinur

This article in no way attempts to detailed criticism of Eretz Nehederet and far less to suggest it should be censored in any way. Democracy requires difference of opinion and political satire, even if it comes from one direction, is part of that. It is an attempt to acknowledge that democracy is best served when there is a choice of viewpoints not one monolithic one. This is just as true when the monolithic view expressed comes not from the government of the day but from a commercial entity.

The available alternative to Eretz Nehederet, even if swamped by budget, audience, tradition and appearance on TV is LATMA!

In addition to being Israel’s most popular television program, this show (i.e Eretz Nehederet ed.) also influences the way young people are formulating their public opinions. A survey on Ynet (March 9, 2006)reported that 19% of young people aged 18-32 drew their knowledge of current affairs from “Eretz Nehederet”. Another survey conducted by the One Voice movement on March 20, 2006 (NRG) reported that only 44% of young people intended to vote on Election Day and many of those who intended to abstain from voting explained that one of their primary reasons for abstaining was the image of politicians shown on “Eretz Nehederet.” In the wake of the survey’s publication, Tal Friedman and Eyal Kitzis, two of the show’s stars, decided to participate in a campaign on behalf of One Voice to encourage voting among young people.

Yuval Karniel and Amit Lavie-Dinur

Of course this is not just an Israeli phenomenon. One day someone will ask Eyal Kitzis if he bases his news anchor role on Jon Stewart or is it just coincidence? My personal opinion is that Kitzis lacks the hubris of Stewart, who deliberately and consciously attempts to manipulate American public opinion and then hides behind the mantra of “It’s just entertainment”. Kitzis (or conceivably his writers) don’t try to influence the public to the Left. They just see their positions as normative.

In a world where personality is as important or more as ideology, if you are satirised is possibly as important as what is said. Sarah Palin might disagree.

An advocate’s interest

This is the point where I confess a crime, albeit a small one, in the public interest. During Operation Cast Lead Eretz Nehederet had a brilliant sketch ridiculing the BBC for reporting not what they were told, even when directly quoting the IDF spokesman, but their own Middle East agenda. I tried to contact the network for permission to upload to YouTube but could get no answer. So I uploaded, anyway.

It was soon pulled for breach of copyright but by then had become viral so it didn’t matter.

The point is that satirical programmes such as Eretz Nehederet and LATMA provide, even if unintentionally, material for Israel advocates, in the same way as political cartoons are used to illustrate written material. These videos may be much more effective in advocating for Israel than boring spokespeople or even (shock, horror, horror) bloggers.

Not this LATMA

As funny as Eretz Nehederet so often is, LATMA is mostly more effective as an advocacy tool, if for no other reason than it ridicules Israel’s enemies even from within the Israeli Left establishment. Tell me why do Peace Now and B’Tzelem not deserve the same satirical pumelling as religious settlers? What attack does more damage to Israel from outside Israel – one on Netanyahu or one on Abbas?

LATMA’s Internet format made it even more effective. If it goes it will be truly missed.

i24?

Surely an ideal home for LATMA would be the new i24 channel. When (I am optimistic) i24 becomes a television channel LATMA will gain access to the larger audience it so needs. It’s a WIN-WIN because it also helps i24 to establish a unique identity.

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Satire-Hosts

The hosts: Elchanan Even-Chen (LATMA), Eyal Kitziz (Eretz Nehederet), Jon Stewart (Today Show), Ronit Shapira (LATMA) A significant proportion of the viewers don’t distinguish satire from news. One wonders, whether the actors, writers and producers do either.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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