Israeli Television

A history of a nation through the small screen.

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Multiple Channels, Diverse Programs

In the late 1980s Israel’s one channel was challenged by the introduction of a second channel that was financed privately and was under less direct supervision of the IBA. It was soon followed by the introduction of multi-channel cable in 1994.  These new cable channels catered to minorities that had been ignored by Israel’s two main channels, which operated by and large for secular Ashkenazic viewers.

Currently, Israel has television stations aimed at specific minority groups such as the Russian-speaking community and the religious population, and there has been talk of a station for Israel’s Arab population for years--but this has never materialized. Many Arab Israelis instead watch television from abroad, mainly Egypt and Jordan.    

Israeli viewers choose from a wide array of Western programming popular the world over--contributing to the globalized identity of modern Israelis. At the same time, the rising standard of living together with the privatization of communications has allowed for new local programming, ranging from the biting political and cultural satire of Eretz Nehederet (“It’s A Wonderful Country,” 2003-present) to Betipul (“In Treatment,” 2005-2008), in which the audience is exposed to the inner life of a therapist-- including of course his visits to his own therapist. HBO bought the rights to this show and premiered the American version in 2008, making it the first Israeli show to be acquired by foreign television.

srugim

The cast of the hit show Srugim

Also common are Israeli versions of American reality shows, such as Ah HaGadol (“Big Brother,” 2008-present), in which Sephardic and Ashkenazic participants formed opposing camps in an attempt get the other group of housemates evicted first. The show was so popular that one Tel Aviv school canceled a field trip so students could stay home to watch the finale.

Most recently, mainstream Israeli television has seen a new diversity in programming, most notably with Srugim (“Knitted,” 2007-present), a drama that focuses on the religious Zionist community, Avodah Aravit (“Arab Labor,” 2007), a comedy made by and about Israeli Arabs, and Merchak Negia (“A Touch Away,” 2006), a miniseries that examines a romance between a Haredi girl and a Russian immigrant.  The rights to this last show were recently acquired by HBO, in addition to the aforementioned Betipul.

The popularity of Israeli television, made possible by technologies of transmission (whether legal DVDs or Internet downloading), continues to grow, attracting the attention of Israelis living abroad, Diaspora Jews, and those simply in search of some quality programming in a global market. 

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Shayna Weiss

Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Shayna Weiss is a graduate of the Drisha Beit Midrash Program and is now a PhD candidate in the Israel Studies program at New York University. With a focus on gender and religion in contemporary Israeli society, she is particularly interested in religion in Israeli media and the culture of gender segregated beaches.