It’s time to tell a different story

The cast of ‘Cinema Sabaya,’ the big winner in Israel’s Ophir Awards on September 18, 2022. (Courtesy Cinema Sabaya)

Since October 7 and the start of the war in Gaza, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has taken on a global significance, with proxy battles being fought in arenas throughout the world. The digital arena is particularly significant, with netizens fighting it out in defense of their “side’s” position. Sadly, during these disputes criticisms of Israel often descend into outright antisemitism. Much ink has been spilled on this phenomenon, and tremendous efforts have been poured into combating it, but it still feels like a Sisyphean task.

There have been AI-driven moderation tools and educational campaigns aimed at debunking harmful stereotypes and initiatives to counter disinformation. There have been focus groups and partnerships and calls for proposals. But the sheer volume and intensity of antisemitic content often overwhelm these efforts. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has reported a persistent rise in online antisemitic incidents, providing empirical evidence that the current strategies, however well-intentioned, are not working.

The Israeli government has also tried to push back against antisemitic and anti-Israel content. These campaigns often focus on portraying Israel and the Jewish people as victims of unjust attacks and justifying Israel’s position in the conflict with Palestinians. These endeavors are as well-intentioned as those from civil society organizations, but they also do not appear to be working, primarily because they reinforce an adversarial paradigm when they should be transcending it.

Instead of perpetuating a perception of victimhood, the time is ripe to highlight Israel’s positive attributes through storytelling in television shows and movies. These should seek to reshape perceptions by showcasing Israel as a vibrant, diverse, and open society. For example, the Israeli TV series Ramzor (‘Traffic Light’), an Academy Award-winning sitcom, has received widespread acclaim for its humorous and relatable portrayal of everyday life here. By focusing on the comedic and mundane aspects of Israeli society, Ramzor offers a refreshing perspective that counters the typical conflict-centric narratives.

Shtisel, meanwhile, a drama about an Ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem, highlights the daily struggles and triumphs of a community most people around the world are unfamiliar with, while showing that, despite the strange clothes and customs, the universal human aspects shine through. There is even a successful Facebook group devoted to the show – “Shtiself – Let’s Talk About It” – with over 33,000 members, many of whom are not Jewish.

There are also positive examples from the world of cinema. Mr Gaga follows the famed Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, who trained Natalie Portman for her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan. Fill the Void, directed by Rama Burshtein, tells the story of an 18-year-old Haredi girl who is pressured to marry her older sister’s husband, following the death of her sister in childbirth. Inspiring a similar reaction to that of Shtisel, it has won numerous awards. Finally, Sublet, directed by Eytan Fox, is about a gay middle-aged travel writer for the New York Times who travels to Tel Aviv, where he sublets an apartment from a younger film student looking for some extra money.

This kind of positive media representation can have a profound impact on public perception. By focusing on the everyday lives of Israelis, their achievements, and their contribution to global culture, Israel can present a more relatable and appealing image to the world. Films and TV shows can promote Israel’s technological advancements, its vibrant arts scene, and its rich cultural heritage, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation among international audiences.

This isn’t to dismiss the struggle against antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred. Obviously, it is important to counter falsehoods and libel wherever they appear. But the focus should be on positive storytelling through films and TV, as this is likely to provide a more effective means of shaping global perceptions of Israel. These efforts can be extended to social media, where netizens frequently compare thoughts and memes on the latest shows and movies. For far too long, the importance of the cultural arena in the fight for Israel’s legitimacy has been neglected. It’s high time to return it to center stage.

It’s time to tell a different story.

About the Author
Nati Dinnar is the co-founder and CEO of IZZY -, the premier platform dedicated to showcasing Israeli television and movies to international audiences. A prominent figure in the Israeli television industry, he has previously served in leadership roles at Channel 2 (Keshet) and Channel 10. He is also the founder and head of Dinnar Productions, through which he has created and produced acclaimed Israeli films such as "Sabena Hijacking," "Rescue Bus 300", “The Longest Night” and the documentary series "Under the Iron Dome".
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