How Israeli Television Conquered the World

July 10 2018

In 2008, the television station HBO began airing In Treatment, a series about psychotherapy adapted from the Israeli program b’Tipul. Three years later, Showtime launched the wildly successful Homeland—now set to enter an eighth season—based on the Israeli series Ḥatufim (“Prisoners of War”). These are now just two of dozens of adaptations of Israeli shows for an international market—not to mention Fauda, aired by Netflix with English subtitles, which has become an international success. Hannah Brown investigates how the Jewish state became a “television powerhouse.”

From 1966 until the early 1990s, there was just one Israeli channel, [previously there had been no television at all], run by the government, that featured mostly news, documentaries, shows for children, and imported series. The transformation began when a commercial network, Channel Two, was officially launched in the early 1990s.

It caught on, partly because it did things that suggested its programmers actually thought about the needs of the people who were watching. Channel Two showed the news at 8 p.m., when people were sitting around after dinner, instead of at 9 p.m., as the government channel did, when people wanted to go out or go to sleep. It hired celebrities like pop stars to host game shows. But most of all, Channel Two spent money on programming; . . . by the mid-1990s, they had discovered that local audiences were eager to watch shows about Israelis. . . .

But the emergence of Israel as an important maker of international television began in the mid-2000s with b’Tipul and Ḥatufim. B’Tipul . . . took an extraordinarily simple (and low-budget) concept—a psychologist treating patients—and realized it beautifully. In each episode, the shrink would see a different patient. . . . “The show was so accessible that often they didn’t need to write an American version,” said [one Israeli television executive]. “Instead they just translated the Israeli script, which is ironic, because it means that Israelis talk about the same things in their therapists’ office as Americans. It just shows how much the cultures are intertwined.” . . .

Jews have always had an affinity for storytelling, which was put to good use by the movie moguls who created Hollywood. Now it’s Israeli Jews who have used their brainpower and energy to crack the popular-culture code. And while some academics and intellectuals would like to boycott everything Israeli, the architects of the Israeli television boom have already harnessed the power of the airwaves to entertain the world.

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More about: Arts & Culture, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli culture, Television

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria