“Sometimes I feel like no matter what Israel does, it’s lampooned in the media. It’s kind of like Lindsay Lohan.”
It’s time for season two of Avi Does The Holy Land, the satirical web series that mocks the stilted, official narratives that strive to present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a certain light. The character, Avi, is a shallow Canadian Jewish millennial who falls in love with Israel during a birthright trip and shows unconditional support for the country and its government’s policies. In the new season, she attempts to understand what has possibly gone wrong with the image of the State of Israel abroad.
Avi Zimmerman, the 33-year-old star and creator of the show, and her co-writer Danielle Angel, have put together the new season of the mockumentary with an international team of people, thanks to a successful online crowdfunding campaign.
“Avi is trying to solve the PR crisis,” said Zimmerman in a phone interview from Israel. “It’s not about what Israel is doing—It’s about Israel not telling its story correctly.”
In its signature, idiotic style, the show tackles the issue of the so-called “public relations war” between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian supporters, mocking a specific segment of North American, pro-Israeli views. The show succeeds at irritating viewers of all political persuasions and snatch a laugh or two, as it captures Avi interviewing members of the Knesset, Jeff Daube from the Z.O.A., Michael Chabon, and many more.
The two creators said they were inspired by several comedians, they say, including Samantha Bee and Sarah Silverman.
Zimmerman said it was challenging to find the right balance for their satire. “We like subtle satire,” she said. “We don’t want to create something that is super obvious. But we see that our work can be taken out of context, it can entertain and enrage people from all sides of the political spectrum.”
There seems to be very little subtlety in the satire of the show, and yet the creator said that many people don’t understand that Avi is a fictional character.
In one of the new episodes, Avi asks people at the Dizengoff Mall in Tel Aviv to sign a petition to convince the Israeli army to adopt a mascot to promote its image abroad. Avi showed them photomontages of a lion mascot standing next to IDF checkpoints. Several people signed it, not grasping the sarcasm.
“We received a couple of messages from Israeli soldiers who thought Avi was real and were hitting on her, trying to meet her,” said Angel.
Since season one, the character of Avi has matured a little; to begin with, she doesn’t make any more oral sex jokes. Still, in one episode, she says that Gaza is to Israel the equivalent of Kim Kardashian’s sex tape. It’s no surprise some viewers find the show crass. (Do not expect the same sophistication of Nas Daily, the world-famous web series by Arab Israeli creator Nas, in addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.)
But Zimmerman is not here to find solutions, she said; she’s here to “challenge people’s blind support” for Israeli policies. “We believe that the occupation has to end,” she said. “There are people who want to be connected with Israel, and want to fight for social justice.”
Avi is such a specific character, that it seems to cater an equally specific audience. She embodies the wild exaggeration of the stereotype of the Jewish American Princess who “falls in love” with Israel without understanding its complex reality.
“I do think it’s an anglo, North American thing,” said Zimmerman. “People say, ‘O.M.G., I know an Avi!’ or ‘I went to camp with an Avi!’”
The downside is that few, if any, Israeli teenagers are likely to identify with Avi—because they don’t see Israel from the window of a birthright bus, but they truly experience it, with all of its real challenges, in their everyday life. The show, in fact, is a critique not only of the occupation itself, but mostly of North American Jewish support for the occupation.
While she thinks that these topics are widely discussed in Israel, Zimmerman believes she’s “hitting a nerve” when it comes to North American audiences. “There is a new movement. We’re the satirical voice of that wave.”
Simone Somekh is a New York-based author and journalist. He’s lived and worked in Italy, Israel, and the United States.