Navigate to Community section

Fighting Back With Comedy

Israeli comedians try to find the humor amid the horrors of the past month

Carol Ungar
November 14, 2023
Israeli comic Matan Peretz posts videos from his army base, where he’s on active duty in the IDF

Courtesy Matan Peretz

Israeli comic Matan Peretz posts videos from his army base, where he’s on active duty in the IDF

Courtesy Matan Peretz

This article is part of Hamas’ War on Israel.
See the full collection →︎

The tragic events of Oct. 7 caught Tel Aviv comic Almog Shur by surprise.

“When I heard the news, I turned as white as chalk—I was even crying,” Shur recalled. Her first response was to take out her phone and begin filming: “I wanted people to know how horrified I felt.”

Though she usually performs in Hebrew, for this video—posted on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok—Shur spoke in English, which she speaks fluently, albeit with a noticeable Israeli accent. “I had to speak a language people would understand,” she explained. It worked. Shur’s first advocacy video scored 300,000 views on Instagram alone—more than many of her prewar videos, most of which were comic riffs on Israeli TV and sex.

Comedy is deeply embedded in Shur’s DNA, and it wasn’t long before she imagined how to incorporate it into her message.

Ten days into the war, Shur came up with “Hamath,” a word she invented as a contraction of “Hamas math.” She created a video about Hamath that was a comic riff on “girl math,” a TikTok genre beloved by Gen Z exposing the illogical logic of what used to be called the fair sex. An example of “girl math” would be insisting that because you’ve spent enough to earn free shipping, you’ve actually saved money. The genre has expanded to include boy math and gay math. And now, Hamas proved itself an easy target for its illogical math.

“Hamas’ budget for food, water, and electricity?” Shur asks in mock seriousness in one video. “Three dollars and fifty cents. And their budget for rockets? The sky is the limit.” Shur followed up with another video about Hamas support as a fashion trend rather than a serious stance: “It’s easy. You don’t have to know anything. What river? What sea?“

Her Hamath videos were a hit—and not just in Israel.

“I’ve attracted new audiences,” she said. “People say I’m making them feel better.”

Still, the journey to internet fame is strange and quirky. One of the Hamath videos got 50% of its views in the U.S. and 5% in Malaysia. “What do they want from me in Malaysia?” she joked.

Even with her online surge in popularity, the war has been hard on Shur. As a full-time, stand-up comedian, she no longer has paid gigs—the comedy clubs in Israel are closed. People aren’t hiring her for private parties, either. “I’m completely in poverty,” she said. Her live performances are now benefit shows for soldiers. Still, she’s grateful to be able to share her comic gifts.

“Part of our war effort is not to let ourselves become completely depressed,” she said. “It’s a very Jewish way to deal with things.”

Even couched in humor putting a pro-Israeli message out isn’t always easy. Shur has had to deal with haters, including a pro-Hamas TikTok content creator who responded to one of her videos with a stitch, TikTok slang for a rebuttal. On a split screen, the creator, who calls herself Luvlainy, appears staring disapprovingly at Shur’s math lesson underneath a banner saying, “I’ve officially found the worst millennial.”

It’s not pleasant, but Shur keeps on going. And she is not alone. Israeli comics have taken on Hamas in the way they know best: through humor.

Israeli comic Matan Peretz is part of a WhatsApp group of Israeli creators who use TikTok, but they are struggling with the Chinese-owned platform. “TikTok is silencing pro-Israeli content,” he said. “The numbers I get on TikTok are significantly less than on Instagram.”

Almog Shur
Almog Shur

Shir Ram

He is not alone. “Everyone is complaining that their videos are not given enough exposure or are even taken down,” he said. “Videos for pro-Palestine get millions of views.”

A popular comedian who has performed in venues such as New York’s Broadway Comedy Club, Peretz started his career doing advocacy. “I’m trying to articulate in the best way possible so people can understand what I’m talking about,” he said. Lately, however, he’s returning to joking, mocking the enemy in absurdist videos he posts from his army base, where he’s back on active duty in the IDF.

“Boycott everything,” he urged facetiously in a recent clip. “The chip in your phone and computer, Waze, McDonald’s, Starbucks. Only use products from Muslim countries: oil, suicide bombers, and knafeh.”

Peretz has also stitched, applying the technique used to diss Almog Shur to further Israel’s cause. Responding to a viral video that described Israelis as racists, Peretz’s stitch explained that Israel includes brown and Black people. The pro-Palestinian creator pushed back. “She took down her video, which meant that my video got canceled, and she disabled the option of letting me do a stitch,” said Peretz.

Peretz points out the irony that this pro-Palestinian creator, who calls herself Luvlainy, identifies as a lesbian: “In Gaza, she’d be put to death.”

Hamas’ homophobia has provided rich material for Israel’s comic advocates. The TV show Eretz Nehederet, the Israeli equivalent of Saturday Night Live, ran a viral parody of gender- and race-fluid pro-Hamas student protesters who misinterpreted a Hamas terrorist call to throw them from a rooftop, thinking it was simply an invitation to a rooftop party.

Shahar Cohen is another comic-turned-advocate. Before the war, his video dialogues—in which the bearded comic, donning wigs, played teenage girl characters—mined the humor in the cultural differences between old-fashioned and contemporary Israelis, and between Israelis and Americans.

Now Cohen is applying this same formula to his advocacy, spoofing woke obtuseness in the face of Hamas homophobia and Israeli humaneness, such as the IDF tanks that guarded Gazans who fled south.

No Israeli comics have reached the numbers achieved by Egyptian stand-up Bassam Youssef, whose interview defending Hamas with Piers Morgan scored 20 million views. But they are fighting hard to tell Israel’s story to the world. Ironically, their métier, dark humor, was never meant to be part of the Israeli zeitgeist. The Zionist founder’s dream, explained scholar Ruth Wisse, was to create a “normal” nation that wouldn’t have enemies to laugh at.

Oct. 7 has challenged that. Just as Israelis have dug deeper into their faith, they’ve also returned to their grandparents’ secret weapon: the ability to laugh at their enemies.

Carol Ungar’s writing has appeared in Next Avenue, Forbes, NPR, the Jerusalem Post Magazine, and Fox News. She also leads memoir writing workshops on Zoom.