Israel’s ‘American Idol’ Reveals Larger Moral Rot
Alleged criminal ties sully popular show, boost protest movement
And you thought Simon Cowell was mean. Margalit Tzanani, a veteran Israeli singer and one of the judges on Kochav Nolad, the Israeli equivalent of American Idol, was nabbed by police this morning on suspicion of engaging Israel’s most notorious criminal, Amir Mullner, to threaten and extort money from her former manager. If that’s not bad enough, the manager, Asaf Atadji, is currently representing some of the singers who got their start in Kochav Nolad, Israel’s top-rated television show, putting a reality-TV spin on this already surreal bit of reality.
The story, however, is more than merely titillating: it has gotten political. A few weeks ago, Tzanani—who has made her reputation as a hot-tempered and low-brow entertainer—spoke harshly against the current wave of protests sweeping Israel, claiming that the young demonstrators demanding affordable housing are nothing more than whiny, privileged, Ashkenazi kids (Tzanani is a Yemeni Jew). Perhaps in response to the singer’s comments, the protest movement’s leaders scheduled their mass rally the other week on the evening of Kochav Nolad’s season finale; the 300,000 people on the streets across Israel gave the singing contest an unusual drop in ratings.
While the criminal allegations have nothing to do with Tzanani’s political opinions, they are likely to contribute to the transformation of Kochav Nolad from cultural landmark to the emblem of all that’s corrupt and morally bankrupt in Israeli society. After years of caring deeply about Tzanani and her brand of frivolous celebrity, young Israelis are now focusing their energies on more profound problems. Whether or not their protests succeed remains to be seen. But witnessing an emblem of unbridled mindlessness tied to crime is a nice symbolic victory.
The women of the film, out of the corner, a generation later
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