When a nation goes to war, there are all sorts of motivations, policy deliberations, and cultural attitudes that contribute to such a decision. Popular culture offers a window into a nation’s consciousness. It shows how a country can be conditioned to anticipate, accept and even endorse a war. An Israeli reader sent a link to this TV commercial for the Israeli cable provider, HOT. The general pitch is that if you buy a particular set of HOT services you win a free tablet PC. The setting is a beat-up bus in which a group of Israeli slackers, possibly freelance agents, sit around playing guitar and doing nothing in particular. This is a reference to a popular Israeli TV show, Asfour, portraying a group of Israeli low-lifes who live in an abandoned bus.
Thanks to Dena Shunra for offering a translation of the dialogue. There are a few snippets that are in Arabic or just hard to figure out. If any Israeli readers can complete the picture, let me know:
[Khaki camouflage packet/jacket falls from above]
What, are we getting ready for Rajuan?
No, it’s Shin, Isfahan.
[Caption title:] Isfahan, Iran. Near the nuclear reactor.
[Same group approaches dressed as Iranian women]
I bet they don’t even get Asfour [Israeli TV show] in this hole.
It’s G_d’s own fright!
Yeah, where will we find a kosher kitchen?
Maybe we’ll run into the family of [prominent Israeli-Iranian singer] Rita.
[One dabs sunscreen on face as others look on in shock.]
What do you want? Do you have any idea how much radiation there is around here?
[One member of the group nods in direction of man sitting at a table. They approach him.]
Slacker: Is that you from the Mossad?
Slacker: Whaddaya mean shhhh? There’s no shame in it. We were also in an institution [mossad can mean the intelligence agency or a mental institution] for a while.
Tell me, ShuShu [Mossadnik] – did you bring us all the way here?
Mossadnik: I’ve been going through two months of stake-outs. It’s deathly boring [literally: boring like missiles] I watch a few episodes on my tablet; reactor or no reactor, I don’t miss an episode of Asfour.
Slacker: Whoa, cool, a tablet. You’re pampered there in the Mossad.
Mossadnik: [Sarcastically] Yeah, right. It’s from HOT. My wife did a triple deal with HOT and all the programs for free.
Slacker: Are you kidding us?
Mossadnik: We even got the HOT VOD app and all the programs – as a gift.
Slacker: Hey, what’s that application? [Reaches for the tablet and clicks app icon]
Slacker: What do you want? Just another mysterious explosion in Iran.
[Next scene: the crew sits laughing and joking with Mossadnik enjoying the tablet. One smashes a bug and says:]
Yuck, a Khomeini [Hebrew colloquialism for “scarab”–Iranians get up to see what he’s talking about. Israelis react fearfully to exposure.]
There’s always a fine line between political parody and racism. It’s often hard to say where one bleeds into another. But the humor of this commercial exposes the moral anaesthesia Israelis undergo, which allows them to be isolated from the impact of the acts of their military and intelligence forces in the region. Instead of a conscious act of sabotage, a bumbling Israeli intelligence agent clicks a button on a tablet application and–Oops!–there goes another Iranian nuclear facility. More Keystone Cops than Mossad cloak and dagger.
At the conclusion, another Israeli swats and kills an insect pest called a Khomeini. The irony of the term and racial hostility inherent in it is self-evident. Yet another marker for the anti-Muslim hate afflicting contemporary Israel. Yes, a nation has to laugh at itself especially in times of tension. But laughter of the sort in this commercial doesn’t encourage thought or introspection. It doesn’t probe reality. It allows Israelis to sink back in their economic largess, to luxuriate in the consumer options (like HOT cable service) available to them, while the harmless bumblers of the Mossad go around blowing up Iranian nuclear plants almost by accident.
It all ends with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink that would be fitting for a Monty Python routine, except the Pythons would’ve been savaging cultural norms instead of laughing about them. Israelis, unfortunately, don’t have that distance from the crimes done in their name.