Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
“Big Brother” bumbles into West Bank
It’s a reality television show whose contestants are isolated from the outside world, but “Big Brother” in Israel has managed to set off yet another controversy over Palestine policies.
Cameras at the studio-cum-commune outside Jerusalem caught Edna Canetti, a 54-year-old liberal activist, telling fellow residents over the weekend she wanted to see a peaceful popular campaign against Israel’s West Bank occupation.
“It bothers me that you’re silent. What’s needed is a revolt,” she declared after refusing to play along with a challenge in which contestants were divided into two groups — “rich” versus “poor” — with a plexiglass barrier between them.
Shifting to Middle East politics, Canetti said Palestinians should similarly tell Israel: “Shove your laws … We’re not going through that checkpoint and we’re not showing you IDs … This is our land.”
The remarks were in themselves unremarkable for Big Brother, an international franchise whose dramatic formula is based on the premise that very different people, cooped up together for weeks, will grow fractious. Yet while Canetti’s assertions met with bored or exasperated shrugs inside the Big Brother house, they found a far angrier audience on the Israeli far-right.
Michael Ben-Ari, a lawmaker from the National Union party who has himself been the subject of public censure after urging Israeli military conscripts to refuse orders to evacuate Jewish settlers from the West Bank, accused Canetti of sedition.
“Mrs. Canetti is, in effect, encouraging Arabs to rise up against the State of Israel, the violation of Israel Defence Force (IDF) troops’ orders, and even open insurrection,” Ben-Ari wrote in a complaint that his spokesman said had been mailed to the Justice Ministry along with a demand for a criminal investigation.
The ministry declined comment pending receipt of Ben-Ari’s letter. Keshet, the network that produces Big Brother in Israel, brushed off the fracas and suggested Canetti be judged by the outcome of the next vote-off round, scheduled for Saturday.
“Those who decide her fate, as far as the show is concerned, are the viewers,” said Hila Pachter, a Keshet spokeswoman.
The West Bank was a springboard for dozens of suicide bombings and gun sprees during a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, but violence has dampened by Israeli restrictions and security cooperation with the current Palestinian government.
Glimmerings of renewed peacemaking have shifted the scrutiny of many Israelis to the difficult prospects of removing Jewish settlements from land where Palestinians want to found a state.
“Wonderful Country” a top-rated television satire also produced by Keshet, opened its 2010 season on Friday with a sketch showing an Israeli soldier held hostage by armed settlers as part of their bid to scotch any West Bank withdrawals.
The staging recalled a videotape released by Islamist faction Hamas of Gilad Shalit, a conscript abducted to the Gaza Strip in 2006 in a bid to force Israel to free hundreds of jailed Palestinians. Hamas spurns peace with the Jewish state.
Yaakov Katz, a decorated and disabled war veteran who now heads the National Union party and lives in a West Bank settlement, accused Wonderful Country of anti-Semitism.
“This programme has a political agenda: to make us hated,” Katz told Army Radio in an interview. “There is nothing that Israelis cherish more than IDF soldiers. To come and compare us to Hamas … this is the opposite of the truth.”
Photo: Edna Canetti on the “Big Brother” set in Neve Ilan, Israel. (Keshet)