Israel’s premiere satirical sketch comedy program, Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), started its 14th season with a bang on Monday night, but ultimately strung along viewers by dangling an upcoming Donald Trump sketch in front of them – which ended up being a disappointment.
With the program coming the night before the sentencing hearing for IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing a wounded and immobile Palestinian terrorist last year, the show opened with a musical number featuring Mariano Edelman singing a parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as Azaria (“Mama, just killed a man”).
While the song is unlikely to win over any right-wing viewers with its conclusion that there are a thousand more Azarias, and this one just happened to get caught on video, the clip was the highlight of Monday’s show.
In a theme that would continue itself in the later Trump sketch, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was portrayed as turning hard to the Right and changing his opinions in order not to lose votes to Bayit Yehudi and Naftali Bennett. He is shown first agreeing with his then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon that Azaria was in the wrong and then dispatching him after Bennett came out in defense of the soldier, saying he did nothing wrong.
The musical sketch captured the way in which the Azaria trial has polarized the country, with some calling him a hero and others saying he committed a criminal act, as well as capturing the way in which politicians have used the trial for their own personal gain.
With the sensation that is the Trump presidency and the success that American satire program Saturday Night Live has had impersonating him, the writers of Eretz Nehederet knew full well that viewers would tune in in large numbers to see the Israeli treatment of events that have become stranger than fiction.
The show teased the sketch repeatedly with shots of Trump’s plane en route to Israel. Host Eyal Kitzis described the delays in every segment, saying the US presidential plane had stopped above Mexico, on which Trump wanted to urinate, had stopped above Sweden, so Trump could prove that the terrorist attack he alluded to over the weekend in the Scandinavian country had actually happened, and had finally landed in Israel, where his giant golden luggage, emblazoned with the Trump logo, was seen on a conveyor belt at Ben Gurion Airport.
Trump’s entrance to the Eretz Nehederet studios was preceded by that of Netanyahu, played by Edelman with a Trump-like orange wig, and his wife Sara, played by Alma Zack, answering questions from Kitzis about Netanyahu’s various criminal probes. Bennett, played by Eran Zarahovitsh, is caught fantasizing about a Trump who bullies Palestinians, embraces settlers and plants the American flag in the Dome of the Rock.
When Trump, played by Eretz Nehederet veteran Tal Friedman, finally makes his entrance, accompanied by his wife Melania, played by Shani Cohen, rather than the right-wing dream of Bennett he is portrayed as a mono-syllabic idiot who clearly knows nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and flip-flops answers that he thinks his interlocutors wish to hear.
While we couldn’t have expected Friedman to match Alec Baldwin’s Trump on Saturday Night Live, he seemed to be a mere prop with which to poke fun at the Israeli politicians: Trump repeatedly compliments the “nice” Sara Netanyahu as he is prompted by a man with a sign to do so; Netanyahu repeats word-for-word Israel’s ever more outrageous demands, as first voiced by Bennett (“Move the US embassy to Ma’aleh Adumim”); and Trump himself gets confused, discussing a one-steak or two-steak solution.
The episode was consistent with Eretz Nehederet’s output in recent years. It had moments of brilliance interspersed with a number of sketches that fell flat. Friedman and his brand of physical comedy did not do Trump justice, and perhaps no Israeli actor is capable of filling that role. However, the show is still unique on the Israeli television landscape and is worth tuning in to despite its occasional misses.
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