Israel on Screen

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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

Suggestions for How to use Israeli Media in the Classroom

When it comes to the show Our Boys and other forms of Israeli media, we have some recommendations and ideas:

  1. It is not developmentally appropriate for students under the age of 16. From an educational perspective, more mature students who have a deep background and understanding of the story of the three kidnapped boys should be a prerequisite before watching the show. 
  2. Watching this show together with Hatifa B’zman Emet can be a powerful educational experience and will bring everyone to the fuller picture of this time in history. Watching the show from different perspectives allows our students to flex their empathy muscles and look at a controversial event from different viewpoints. It is important that we engage our students by giving them the tools to participate in these conversations rather than watching on the sidelines. Ask them, what surprised them? How accurate is the depiction? What frustrates you about the show? How do you view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared to before?
  3. Use the videos series from Unpacked for Educators to explore Israeli history, culture and society. For instance, check our new series on Israeli Phenomenology, starring Chloe Valdary! 
  4. We know that Israeli media is making a deep imprint on the world, and we think that bringing this content to our younger students can connect young Jews across the world with Israelis. Remember, connecting with people (Israelis) is more likely than connecting with Israel (a country), and is a good strategy to connect young Jews to each other and their own Jewish identity.
  5. There are a variety of methods in which to utilize Israeli media in the classroom. In a Hebrew class, teach useful vocabulary and Israeli slang from short clips of popular shows such as When Heroes Fly or Hashoter Tov (both on Netflix). Teach about the diversity of Israeli society through shows that present different groups in Israel such as Shtisel, Our Boys, Srugim, Fauda, and more. 
  6. Use shows as a supplement to teach about major themes facing Israeli society and Israeli current events. Turning our students onto Israeli media gives them open access to Israeli society in an engaging and entertaining way. In a time when American teens average 7 hours and 22 minutes of screen media per day, it can’t hurt to inspire our students to incorporate Israeli media into their screen time. 

In Other News… 

  1. Israel has unveiled a new laser system to target incendiary balloons, drones, and kites from Gaza. The goal of the new system is to eliminate aerial threats from Gaza before they enter Israeli territory.
  2. The Israeli political circus continues! On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the Likud party primary leadership race against rival Gideon Sa’ar with a whopping 72.5% of the vote. As expected, Netanyahu will once again run in the next Israeli election on March 2.
  3. It was announced that the Israeli Cycling Academy will be the first Israeli team to compete in the Tour de France, beginning June 27, 2020. The Tour de France is the third most viewed sporting event on earth after the summer Olympic games and the soccer World Cup.
  4. Israeli Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot announced that she will be producing a film adaption of a novel, banned in Israeli schools, based on a romance between an Israeli woman and Palestinian man.

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is Senior Vice President at OpenDor Media. He leads the education vision and implementation at OpenDor Media with a special focus on the development of meaningful content and resources for students and educators. He holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design.

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