'No one spared' as Israeli sketch show skewers candidates

GMT 10:03 2015 Friday ,13 March

Arab Today, arab today 'No one spared' as Israeli sketch show skewers candidates

cameraman records an episode of 'Eretz Nehederet'
Herzliya - AFP

Benjamin Netanyahu was cursed as a child to be Israeli prime minister for eternity, his only chance to break the spell to sabotage the country and become its worst leader ever.
This is the secret behind Netanyahu's political longevity as portrayed by Eretz Nehederet, Israel's favourite sketch show which has been revelling in the run-up to next week's general election when the Israeli leader is seeking a third consecutive term.
The programme -- whose title translates as "A Wonderful Country" -- has been running on Israeli prime time for 12 seasons, its tongue-in-cheek approach bringing some much-needed comic relief to the often dour world of Israeli politics.
But it is in the run-up to the March 17 vote that the show has struck upon its greatest inspiration yet: "Bibi" Netanyahu himself.
"It's a lot of responsibility to play the prime minister," says Mariano Idelman, who portrays the Israeli leader on the show.
"Me, I have to respect him. The writers, not so much."
It is not only Netanyahu who receives a weekly skewering in this madcap, half-hour rumpus of news and slapstick comedy.
"Everyone is targeted. The left, the right... no one is spared," says actress Shani Cohen, who plays centrist candidate Tzipi Livni.
In its studios in northern Tel Aviv, hundreds of fans scramble to take selfies with lookalikes of Livni, Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The key to the show's success, according to presenter Eyal Kitsis, is to be as close to reality as possible.
He plays the host interviewer, a serious foil putting questions to the "politicians" who respond with farce.
"We are taken very seriously, people watch us as if they were watching a news programme," he says.
- Political parodies -
The attention to detail is impressive.
Netanyahu's purple-grey comb-over, Livni's plummy diction and far-right leader Naftali Bennett's refrain of "That's enough!" are all well-known to audiences.
Eretz Nehederet's producers say the first episode of the latest season drew in nearly 30 percent of television audiences, a viewing figure most candidates could only dream of attracting.
The show has become so popular that real-life politicians are starting to get in on the parody act.
Netanyahu released a wry campaign video in which he sits on a sofa eating popcorn as he takes care of a young couple's children, portraying himself as the nation's "Bibi-sitter".
And Jewish Home weighed in with a clip in which Bennett wanders around Tel Aviv as a bearded hipster who is constantly apologising to everyone around him.
While the show's writers admit to being impressed by the self-deprecation of some of Israel's most senior politicians, they aren't concerned about losing their jobs.
"Don't worry; we're still better than them," says producer Muli Segev.
"Firstly, we're more fun. And you can't forget that their primary role is to run the country. Unlike us, they haven't really done their job in recent years," he adds.
This explains the show's narrative of the Netanyahu curse.
Sabotaging crucial US ties, engaging in wars and "ruining" Israeli democracy are all part of an effort to break the spell -- by becoming "the worst prime minister in the history of Israel."
- 'Our wonderful country' -
The humour has even spread to the White House.
During a visit to Jerusalem in 2013, US President Barack Obama dismissed reports of a dispute between him and his "friend Bibi" as "a plot to find something to feed Eretz Nehederet".
Back in the studio, nothing is sacred, with the set including replicas of the concrete wall separating Israel from the West Bank, a plastic anti-missile system and mock-ups of smuggling tunnels in Gaza -- all set up around the talk show table.
"We see Israel as a bubble which is trying to lead a quiet life in a region in turmoil by hiding from the Palestinians behind a wall and hiding from Hamas under Iron Dome," says Segev.
"This is also what our wonderful country is about."

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