The HBO and Keshet Studios-produced series “Our Boys,” which recounts the 2014 revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager by Orthodox Jews, continues to generate controversy — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed the show and called for a boycott of Keshet.
“The propaganda Channel 12 [Keshet’s station in Israel] produced an anti-Semitic series called ‘Our Boys,’ that is distributed internationally and besmirches the good name of Israel,” Netanyahu said in an August 30 Facebook post translated by Haaretz. “I am not surprised that Channel 12 slanders Israel, as I am used to them blackmailing me on a daily basis.”
The same day Netanyahu posted to Facebook, the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition by his party, Likud, to block Keshet’s news division from publishing leaked materials related to a police investigation into Netanyahu’s alleged corruption prior to Israel’s September 17 election.
Netanyahu went on to urge Israelis — particularly those whose homes have ratings measuring devices — to boycott the network. “If such a device is installed in your home, or if someone around you is connected to such a device, demand from him to avoid watching Keshet and Channel 12,” Netanyahu wrote, “because they’ve chosen to tarnish our images in the world with their lies against Israel.”
The prime minister is not alone in his critique. In August, Netanyahu’s son Yair Netanyahu wrote on Twitter that, per The New York Times’s translation, “the series tells the whole world how the Israelis and Jews are cruel and bloodthirsty murderers, and how the Palestinians are badly done by and oppressed.”
As The New York Times reported, 120 Israeli families of soldiers and civilians killed by Palestinians signed a letter to HBO demanding an on-screen explanation that Palestinian terrorism is statistically more common than Jewish acts of terror. HBO has yet to respond to this petition.
Central to concerns about the series is its choice to devote the bulk of its 10-episode arc to the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager who was abducted and burned alive by Israeli settlers. Many critics from the right claim the show fails to emphasize Palestinian terrorism, specifically the murder of three Israeli teen hitchhikers by Hamas affiliates that preceded the killing of Abu Khdeir. Netanyahu noted in his Facebook post that the show opted to show only “a few minutes of cold archival footage” of the abduction and murder of hitchhikers while going on to focus extensively on the “shocking but rare” case of Abu Khdeir’s murder.
Responding to the controversy, co-director Joseph Cedar, who directed the Jewish-Israeli scenes of the show, derided some critics for using “bereaved families in public debate” and argued that the ire surrounding the series stems less from its content than from “the appetite for finding a public enemy.”
“The series is not about terrorism at all,” Cedar told The Times. “It’s about understanding the nature of a hate crime.”
When asked about the choice to follow Abu Khdeir’s murder, Hagai Levi, another of the show’s creators, told the conservative Israeli paper Makor Roshon, “The portrayal of the Abu Khdeir family is not a portrayal of a grieving family, but a broader story of a private person [likely referring to Abu Khdeir’s father, Hussein] who sunk into grief and almost reluctantly became a political figure, a symbol.”
Tawfik Abu Wael, a Palestinian director who shot the Palestinian sequences of the show, also received criticism because the show did not include details of the occupation and did not show the deaths of innocent Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force.
“Things are not black and white,” Abu Wael told The Times of his decision to make the show while facing pressure to boycott it. “Reality is more complex.”
On August 31, Variety reports, Netanyahu appeared on Facebook live to condemn the show again, claiming that “Thousands of you called [to complain about] this terrible propaganda show.” He also called Keshet legal reporter Guy Peleg, who reported on Netanyahu’s alleged corruption, of being “s puppet” of Keshet executives, whom he, in turn, accused of “committing a terror attack on democracy.”
While Keshet has yet to respond publicly to the calls for a boycott, other outlets have rallied to the network’s defense. Per Variety, a front page column in the popular Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot stated that “The free press is under attack.” On television, KAN News anchor Yaron Dekel expressed “solidarity with our colleagues at Keshet 12,” adding that “Boycotting a TV network is an improper step in our eyes.”
Within Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is still scheduled as the opening speaker at the Keshet 12 News conference set for September 5. On September 1, Rivlin appeared to address Netanyahu’s rhetoric at an event at Mahanayim Yeshiva in Gush Etzion.
“Particularly on the eve of elections, when the mood is stormy and the discourse gets ugly, I urge you – don’t believe incitement and insults,” Rivlin told the crowd.
Variety reports that Netanyahu’s push for a boycott did little to dampen Keshet’s viewership this weekend. The network topped Israeli ratings.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.