Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a boycott of the HBO docudrama Our Boys. This month, a global pro-Israel campaign is promoting The Spy, a new series on Netflix starring Sacha Baron Cohen.
Our Boys dramatizes the events that occurred after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank in June 2014, leading to the brutal killing of Palestinian teenager by Israelis and ultimately the Gaza War of that summer. In a Facebook post, Netanyahu denounced the series as “anti-Semitic” and said that it “gives a bad and false name to Israel.” He also called for people to boycott the show, along with the Israeli company Keshet who co-produced it. Netanyahu has previously criticized Keshet for its coverage of the Prime Minister’s corruption scandals.
While Netanyahu is calling for a boycott of one American show, Israel’s anti-BDS app is promoting another one. The Spy is a Netflix miniseries based on the life of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who did espionage work in Syria. It stars Sacha Baron Cohen (best known for creating and portraying fictional characters like Borat and Ali G) and was co-directed by Gideon Raff, an Israeli director and former IDF paratrooper. In Haaretz, Adrian Hennigan writes that Netanyahu certainly won’t find any content worth boycotting in the series. “I didn’t hate ‘The Spy’ – and I’m sure some people will enjoy it,” writes Hennigan. “But I was crying out for something that didn’t just present us with a one-sided story about a heroic Israeli spy thwarting dastardly Arabs.”
Act.IL is a worldwide pro-Israel campaign that is funded by the country’s government. The organization has its own app, which sends thousands of trolls on missions to promote Israel and denounce pro-Palestinian stories on social media. Its main focus has been combatting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on the web. Its users are able to gain points by prizes by completing online “missions” in support of Israel.
Michael Bueckert is PhD student in sociology and political economy at Carleton University. He runs a Twitter account that tracks the Act.IL app and discovered that it was encouraging its users to share a trailer
— Behind Israel's Troll Army (@AntiBDSApp) September 2, 2019
At the same time, the app is calling on its users to leave negative reviews of Our Boys on IMDB:
Israel's app is sharing an email campaign by far-right Im Tirtzu to demand that @HBO apologize for the show #OurBoys, and directing users to give the show negative reviews on IMDB https://t.co/DL8tltwNW5 pic.twitter.com/uZrIJk0dcN
— Behind Israel's Troll Army (@AntiBDSApp) September 5, 2019
Earlier this year, the Emmy Award-winning actor David Clennon turned down the chance to audition for the Netflix series Fauda over its depiction of Palestinians. In a piece for Truthout, Clennon declared that he has supported Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel since the Gaza War of 2014. “I’ve come to think of Israel as a European settler-colonial state, which practices apartheid to control the Indigenous population it has conquered militarily,” he wrote.
Clennon emailed Mondoweiss a statement about such programs, drawing a direct link between Hollywood’s growing Israeli ties and the current fracturing of the pro-Israel consensus in the Democratic Party. “Hollywood and Tel Aviv’s television industry are forming closer ties every month, it seems, binding themselves together more and more tightly,” wrote Clennon. “This is happening as Israel’s most powerful American lobbying agency, AIPAC, is being exposed and is starting to lose a little of its control over US politicians.”
In one sense, it doesn’t matter so much what the content of these programs is; it doesn’t matter so much whether Israelis, or Palestinians or Syrians are portrayed sympathetically or not. What I feel is of equal importance is the prestige, the legitimacy and the credibility that Israel gains from its association with Hollywood, the Dream Machine, the world’s biggest purveyor of entertainment.
That’s why I feel it’s so important for actors, writers and other cultural workers in our entertainment industry to think about the nature of the work we sign on to do. What are the political and moral and economic implications of the projects we sell our talents and our energies to?
If we choose to work for an Israeli television company — partnered with a US company or distributor — are we supporting the oppression of a dispossessed indigenous people, the Palestinians? Are we reinforcing the apartheid system by which Israel controls Gaza and the occupied territories? Are we perpetuating the deceitful mythology that disguises the brutal establishment of the state of Israel?