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Reality Bites

The biggest Israeli sex scandal is on TV

Liel Leibovitz
February 15, 2011
Yoram Zak, the Big Brother host.(Mouse)
Yoram Zak, the Big Brother host.(Mouse)

In the last two weeks alone, Israelis have been treated to a carnival of corruption, including the farcical ejection of the designated chief of staff, the arrest of yet another mayor for allegedly accepting bribes, and the trial of ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But these matter little compared to the case that’s really rocking Israel: Call it Big Brothergate.

The reality television show—a local version of the popular international format—has become something akin to a religion in the Jewish State, with a designated channel broadcasting live from the contestants’ villa 24/7. Ask thoughtful Israelis why they love the show so much, and they’re likely to cite the aforementioned scandals and say that, in a political reality so harsh and arid, a bit of lush escapism never hurts. That is, until the escapism, too, is mired in scandal.

It involved the show’s editor, Yoram Zak. Sitting in his control room, thinking that his microphone was shut off, Zak gazed at one of the show’s female contestants milling about and said some inappropriate things. This being about reality television, I will tell you some of what he said: Politely put, he guessed that the attractive contestant would have enjoyed it if he, Zak, placed a part of his anatomy in a spot on the contestant’s body that is commonly considered erogenous. (If you can read Hebrew, you’ll have a lot more fun with the link.)

A public storm ensued. It is one thing for a prime minister or a mayor to accept payola, or for a top general to steal public lands for his own private use. But for someone to sully the sterling morals of reality TV? Letters flowed in by the dozens. People were outraged. Zak had to go on an involuntary vacation. Further measures are pending. Calls are mounting for the show to go off the air. Just when they thought they were out, reality pulls Israelis right back in.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.