Israel on Screen

(Courtesy: Netflix)

What Happened?

The New York Times named the Israeli TV series Hatufim, Prisoners of War, as the best international TV series of the decade. Another Israeli series, Fauda, took eighth place, and two others, Shtisel and Our Boys, received honorable mentions. These shows became exceedingly popular this year on platforms like Hulu, HBO, Netflix, and Amazon, and are in good company with other recently successful Israeli shows and movies like The Spy, Mossad 101, and When Heroes Fly

Why Does this Matter?

The Israeli Story – TV shows and film are an excellent opportunity for storytelling, and these shows do exactly that. They reveal sides of Israel and Israelis not known to the general public – the good, the bad, the comical, and the sad. The story of Israelis is complex. It is not binary. We should not treat Israelis as if they are some abstract concept or platonic version of “good” or “bad.” They are complex people who, like the rest of us, face difficult decisions, often triumph, and sometimes fail. Israelis have stories to tell, and these stories are being heard by people around the world through these shows. There is depth, nuance, and truth within the entertainment.

Israel’s Image – Too often, Israel is in the news for negative reasons. It’s easy to turn on the TV or open a newspaper and assume that daily life in Israel is consumed by conflict, terror, and fear. In reality, Israel has a booming cultural scene. TV shows and films allow Israeli art and talent to reach anyone on earth with Wifi. As one Israeli journalist put it when JLo visited Israel: “Jennifer Lopez did more for Israel’s image than any politician ever could.” Indeed, it is often the people’s stories and culture that speak louder than politics.

But, Are the Shows Always Good for Israel’s PR?: Our Boys as a Case Study

The answer is, it depends on who you ask. Our Boys, produced by Keshet and HBO, is seemingly a show about the horrific kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June 2014. However, the show actually tells the story of the revenge murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish extremists.

For some, that question is really besides the point. Many lauded the series’ sophistication, honesty and careful dealing with difficult subject matter. One journalist in Ha’aretz  wrote, “There is only one word for Our Boys: Masterpiece,” due to its genius laser focus on the protagonists in the Abu Khdeir murder,and another review, also from Ha’aretz, notes that the show “forces Israelis to look in the mirror.” 

For others, that question is actually the very point. Arutz Sheva reported that many have criticized the show for being self-damaging, or according to Aish as using the crime to condemn Israel, according to Gil Troy for the Jerusalem Post for encouraging moral equivalency between the crimes. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, went so far as to call the show anti-Semitic

Interestingly, simultaneous with the release of the season finale of the show, Keshet released a documentary focused on the story of the three Israeli teens called Hatifa B’zman Emet, Real Time Kidnapping, perhaps to address some concerns