Conan meets activists in West Bank, hangs out with Gal Gadot in Israel special
When Conan O’Brien announced in August he would be going to Israel, he suggested he might try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he visited.
But what he did achieve in a humorous perspective is a deep-dive into Israeli life while humanizing both Israelis and Palestinians during his stops in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the West Bank.
His special, “Conan Israel,” aired Sept. 19 and is available for viewing in its entirety at teamcoco.com.
In O’Brien’s special, he covers 1,300 years of fighting, conquests and disputes in just over one minute. A nice detail Angelenos will appreciate is a one-liner about in-fighting among Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews in which Reform Jews are represented by a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball hat.
At the comedian’s first stop, Tel Aviv, the lanky, ginger Harvard University alumnus explores the city’s beaches. The physical attractiveness of the young Israeli people sweeps him up. There’s just one problem: From a lifeguard tower he calls for all the Israeli men wearing speedos to immediately remove themselves from the beach.
During his second stop, he visits the Tower of David museum, overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. Eilat Lieber, director of the museum, points out the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian quarters to O’Brien.
“The Armenians have a quarter?” O’Brien says. “I don’t understand why they get a quarter. They got all of Glendale.”
Punctuating the traveling tour is a parody of the hit Israeli television series, “Fauda,” during which O’Brien threatens to electrocute “Fauda” star Lior Raz, who co-stars in the clip, unless Raz provides him with a very crucial piece of information: The home address of “Wonder Woman,” Gal Gadot. When that doesn’t work, O’Brien threatens to torture him using more creative technique:
“I won’t kill you. I’ll do something worse. I am going to sing ‘Hava Nagila’ the way an Irish man sings ‘Hava Nagila,’” O’Brien says.
When O’Brien visits Gadot apartment, he tries to sweet talk his way inside. Unfortunately, she’s busy entertaining friends. Before the clip ends he notices the mezuzah on her door post. Indeed, the episode shows O’Brien, who is not Jewish, not only learning about Israel, but becoming more knowledgeable about Judaism. He even has a bar mitzvah.
A visit to the West Bank begins with O’Brien’s trying out an affable Palestinian’s man coffee and haggling over the price of a hookah pipe which turns to be decorative and not functional.
Then, as O’Brien visits a piece of the separation wall dividing Israel from the Palestinian territories, things take a serious turn. Palestinian activists approach and share their side of the story. They denounce the foreign aid the United States provides to the Palestinians. O’Brien doesn’t counter so much as give them a platform to share their views. When it’s over, O’Brien offers a disclaimer, that he did not conduct interviews with people who oppose the views just expressed in the segment.
In the next clip, he visits with U.N. inspectors who man Israel’s border with Syria in the Golan Heights. They discuss Hollywood karate star Chuck Norris’s having previously visited Israel. Undercutting the playfulness is that in the distance the gunfire from Syria’s civil war can be heard.
In the next sequence, O’Brien sees the results of the Syrian civil war up close when he visits an Israeli hospital, Ziv Medical Center, which is affiliated with the faculty of Bar-Ilan University and has been treating victims of Syria’s civil war. He meets a surgeon, Argentinian-Israeli Dr. Alejandro Roisentul, who has been honored for his work treating Syrians, along with a social worker named Fares.
“I think you’re doing God’s work here. I honestly sincerely think you are doing beautiful work here,” O’Brien says to Roisentul and Fares.
O’Brien then meets Syrian patients, who have been treated at the border and taken to the hospital. The Syrians’ faces are blurred to protect their identities.
Ziv Medical Center is located in Safed, home to a large Arab population. In an email, Ron Solomon, executive vice president of American Friends of Bar Ilan University, told the Journal that O’Brien’s visit must have meant a great deal to both the Jewish and Arab people of the northern Israeli city in the Galilee.
“The fact that a star, [on] the level of Conan, made the time to go all the way up to Ziv Hospital and see for himself the care that is given to all people in need, has to have an impact on both the Arab and Jewish populations in all of Galilee,” he said.
The episode concludes with O’Brien’s acknowledging he does not have a solution to the problems plaguing the region but he has learned that Israel does not deserve international condemnation for being imperfect.
“Let’s remember we’re talking about a country that is only 69-years-old. Think about it, the U.S. is 240-years-old and last time I checked we are still working out a few kinks,” he says.
While he does not broker a peace agreement, in an interview that streamed live on Wednesday on Facebook he said he achieved his goals for the special.
“There is a lot of hot-button topics there, and I did want people to know very sincerely that our intention was to go and to really try to keep it simple: meet people, try to make them laugh, make friends, make friends with Israelis, make friends with Arabs and try to find common ground with things we find universally funny,” he said. “There was nothing else, and obviously there will be certain people who want to read intention. We did go there to try and make people happy, make people laugh and when I watched the show last night, I think we did that, and that makes me very happy.”