Noa Tishby: Actress, Superstar TV Producer, Informal Ambassador, #HotIsraeliGirl
The woman responsible for ‘In Treatment’ on living in the diaspora, defending Israel, and grabbing a cigarette with a general
But it was In Treatment that would be the big break. It racked up awards and critical praise, landed Tishby a co-executive producer role, and helped build the template for her next professional step. It’s a more commercial form of ambassadorship between Israel (which has the talent and the content) and the United States (which has the money and the audience).
“It’s the worst-kept secret in town that Israel is one of the best content creators in the world,” she told me. Since the wild success of Homeland—co-written by Tishby’s friend Gideon Raff—it’s worse kept than ever. To date, Tishby has sold about a dozen shows.
Israeli shows thrive, Tishby says, because creators have to please a hyperliterate, hypercritical audience, but “there’s no money. You cannot create your product based on explosions or car chases. If your show or movie doesn’t have great characters, great story lines, great script, it’s not going to make it to air. And the competition is fierce because there are essentially only three channels you can sell your show to.”
There is also creative freedom and rawness that is unheard of in American television, meaning shows often require dilution in adaptation. Even at famously creator-friendly HBO, some finessing was necessary. “In the adaptation of In Treatment we had to take out a lot of screaming,” Tishby says. “We had to explain to them why in Israel you could scream at your therapist.” (Answer: Because you can scream at anyone.)
Though Tishby came from a left-leaning family and is the granddaughter of Israel’s first ambassador to South Africa, her initial Israeli superstardom wasn’t particularly political. The real turning point, she said, was the Gaza flotilla raid in May 2010. “I went on Twitter and saw what was going on,” she said. “The message that was already forming was Israel killed peace fighters. I know the Israeli military. I served in the Israeli military. That’s not what happened. That’s not the commands that we get. So, I just went on Twitter and I started answering people and fighting back. And I didn’t get up for a week.”
Her fellow Israeli star Bar Refaeli had a trickier time on social media. Refaeli, already controversial in the country for not serving in the army, was widely castigated on Israeli social media for a Tweet during the November Gaza conflict that would have seemed anodyne to the uninitiated: “i prey [sic] for the safety of the citizens on both sides and for the day we will live in peace and harmony Amen.” In the furor that followed at her apparent equivalence of Palestinians and Israelis, Tishby urged people on Twitter to “please leave Bar alone.” Meanwhile, her own well-circulated speech at a pro-Israel rally in L.A. defended Israel’s actions in the conflict: “We are doing what needs to be done. We are forced to be doing it.”
Even as American discussions of Israel’s actions are ever more polarized, Tishby shies away from right-left identification. “Obviously I’m extremely liberal about everything that has to do with human rights. Like all of it,” she said, referring back to the pro-gay rights NOH8 campaign she’d done a photo shoot for the day before. “But I’m very hawkish when it comes to radicalism around the world. So, what would you call me? I think Americans do not understand what we’re dealing with here.”
That caution extends to the Israeli domestic context. Within the past few years, she has met with both Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman. Asked if politicians sought her endorsement, she answers in monosyllables, saying they did but that she doesn’t plan to get involved. “I feel like my stand for Israel needs to be bipartisan even within Israel. I want to be clear to the Israeli public that I support the country,” she said. That’s true whether speaking publicly in the States or bringing over American luminaries—the stars of CSI, the boy entrepreneurs of the Summit Series—to see Israel for themselves.
“I don’t criticize Israelis,” Tishby told me. “I will try to shed light on what the reality is from outside of Israel, in terms of the perception of it.” She does express some frustration to me that “what we’re doing right now is winning the battle and losing the war. The war is a Jewish democratic state. Without solving the Palestinian issue, there is no chance for that. I don’t understand why this isn’t becoming a narrative of the right in Israel, why it’s only an issue of the left. It’s almost jingoistic in its essence.”
Brig. General Yoav “Poly” Mordechai, the IDF”s spokesperson, told Tablet that Tishby had surprised him by reaching out for coffee two years ago and offering her assistance on social media and hasbara free of charge. “Noa is proof of just how much one person can accomplish,” he wrote in an email. “Her ideas and recommendations were implemented during Operation Pillar of Defense, during which social media was used to provide a real-time picture of the challenges facing Israel and the IDF.”
“I always say, where do you think I’m from, and I always get anything but Israel,” Tishby said at a corner table at the Belvedere, the Peninsula’s restaurant, after the off-the-record dinner with Ashkenazi. I asked her when she lost her accent in English, and she said she never had one. There is, curiously since she’s never lived there, a trace of New York in her diction, as in “I undastand.” She is compulsively absorptive, and when she was married to an Australian television presenter—in 2011, the couple announced on Twitter that they had divorced “mutually and amicably”—she struggled not to pick up the accent in his home country. “I have to remind myself: Don’t become a douchebag,” she said.
She had changed into a sheer black tunic for the dinner, accented by an elaborate Michal Negrin pendant, and her eyes were dramatically lined. She was exhausted, at something of a crossroads of her life and living in a furnished rental with a Marilyn Monroe theme. In it the next day, apparently tiring of questions about her career and life, she would go on an 11-minute monologue about the 701-page book she had just read about T.E. Lawrence, about her passion for reading books and consuming news, and say of herself, “I’m such a geek.”
The Belvedere was a room of muted colors and voices, but from the next table, Ashkenazi shouted her name, and for a moment she returned his brusque fire. “Ma atta tzoek?” she scoffed—what are you screaming for? (Answer: Because you can scream at anyone.)
More specifically, though, Ashkenazi wanted to share another smoke break. The pre-dinner one had taken place a few feet away from a sign politely stating that it was a smoke-free zone. “Yalla,” Tishby said to me. “Let’s go smoke with the general.”
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