November 18, 2018

Israeli Drama ‘District Y’ Headed for U.S. TV

Courtesy of Pexels.

CBS Studios International is partnering with “Fauda” and “False Flag” creator/writer Leora Kamenetzky, L. Benasuly Productions (“Homeland” inspiration “Hatufim”), Paper Plane Productions and Israeli broadcaster Kan to produce the Israel-set crime drama “District Y.”

The 10-part series will focus on a police unit in Jaffa, where Jews and Arabs live together. An Arab-Jewish and a Christian Israeli-Russian cop head the task force, which is investigating the murder of a 17-year-old Jewish girl and the Arab crime family behind a street war in the city.

Tensions escalate, and the police, the crime families and the Arab and Jewish residents of Jaffa have to reconsider their allegiances when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict obstructs the authorities from enforcing the law, with deadly consequences.

“We have been searching for a provocative, character-driven drama that evolves the international returnable series,” said Meghan Lyvers, SVP of co-productions and development for CBS Studios International. “Leora Kamenetzky has created a genuinely distinct and culturally unique story in ‘District Y.’”

It is not known yet if the series will air on the network or will be streaming.

Lior Raz On ‘Fauda’s’ Return

Ohad Romano / Yes Studios

When it premiered on Israeli TV in 2015, the drama series “Fauda” broke new ground for its portrayal of both Jews and Palestinians as fully-fledged, equally flawed human beings, and the complicated conflict between them in many shades of gray.

Amid praise and accolades, including six Israeli Academy of Film and Television (Ophir) awards, Netflix acquired the series and began streaming it in December 2016. The second season, which aired last year in Israel and earned 11 Ophirs, premieres May 24 on Netflix.

“Fauda,” which means chaos in Arabic, follows both an Israeli counter-terrorism unit operating in the West Bank and Hamas terrorists. The show is presented in Hebrew and Arabic. Tellingly, there are a lot of similarities between Israeli Doron Kavillio, played by series co-creator Lior Raz, and terrorist leader Nidal aka “Al Makdesi” (Firas Nassar). Both men are hotheaded, doggedly determined and defy authority. And just as the members of Doron’s unit pose as Arabs to gather intelligence, Nidal uses college students posing as Jews in his attacks.

“We always try to find the similarity on both sides, between the nemesis and the hero,” Raz said by telephone from Israel. “There are similarities in how they behave, but Nidal is a terrorist who kills innocent people and is motivated by revenge. Doron is motivated by the chase, the adrenaline and that someone is threatening his life and his family’s lives.”

Thematically, “this season is about the relationships between fathers and sons and it’s about revenge — how the circle of violence continues because of the need for revenge,” Raz said. “And about the price that both sides are paying for their actions.”

Doron Ben-David (left) and Lior Raz in “Fauda.” Photos courtesy of Netflix.

“I’m very connected to my heritage and my Judaism.” — Lior Raz

Raz, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in an undercover special ops unit, based a lot of “Fauda” on his experiences. “I took a lot of things from my experiences, not just in the military, but in life,” he said. “The relationship with my father in the show is very similar to my relationship with my father in real life. But there are other [fictional] things that are just good drama. We try to combine everything.”

When “Fauda” was first broadcast in Israel, “people didn’t know how to react,” Raz said. “There was a little bit of criticism, but as the season went on they loved it. I thought no one would watch, just my family. But it has become a big hit all over the world.” From Jews in particular, he noted, “I feel there is a pride about the show and I’m so glad to see it when I meet with people in Jewish communities all over the world.”

The fact that “Fauda” was embraced by a wide spectrum of people also took Raz by surprise. “We thought the Israeli right wingers would hate us because we are humanizing the Palestinian; the left wingers would hate us because we show Israeli soldiers doing bad things sometimes, and we thought the Arabs and Palestinians would hate us because we’re showing terrorists killing Israelis. But what happened is the right wingers think it’s a right-wing show, the left wingers think it’s a left-wing show and the Arabs love it because we’re honoring their language and their narrative, showing their side,” he said. “That’s the secret of the success of the show.”

Born in Israel to an Iraqi father and an Algerian mother, Raz grew up listening to Arabic music alongside Tchaikovsky and Mozart and speaking Arabic with his parents and grandmother. “We were culturally Jewish. We celebrated the holidays, we fasted on Yom Kippur and had Kiddush on Friday night, but that’s it,” he said.

Nonetheless, his Jewish identity is ironclad. “This is my heritage and why I live in Israel,” he said. “I’m very connected to my heritage and my Judaism. In Israel, it’s not a question at all. It’s something you’re born into when you live in the Jewish state. You fight for the Jewish state. You belong to the Jewish state. You cannot disconnect the two.”

After his IDF service, Raz moved to Los Angeles in 1993 and was hired by an Israeli-run personal security company as a bodyguard for Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It was nothing to write home about. I was in the home, with his family,” Raz said.

Working for the movie star had no influence on Raz’s eventual career choice.

“I didn’t want to be an actor at that time. I thought I’d be connected to security all my life,” he said. However, when he returned to Israel a year later, he looked into working at a tech company. “But I woke up one morning and realized I’m not living my dream. And I went to acting school when I was 24.”

After studying at the Nissan Nativ drama school in Tel Aviv, Raz began landing roles in theater and small parts in TV series, including “Srugim,” “Mesudarim,” “The Gordin Cell,” and “Prime Minister’s Children.” He has often played soldiers, policemen and undercover agents in projects with dramatic heft, but reveals that he “has done a lot of comedy in my life,” including improv. “I would love to do more,” he said.

His next film isn’t a comedy, but it’s a prestige project: “Operation Finale,” about Israel’s secret mission to capture Nazi Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann and bring him to justice. Raz plays Isser Harel, director of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad in the film, which will be released Sept. 21. He felt a sense of accountability to both the person and the history.

“It was a story that we grew up on in Israel, since I was a kid. The responsibility isn’t just to the character but to the story. We tried to be as authentic as we could,” he said. “It was a great experience working with actors like Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent [and] Oscar Isaac. I want to work more and more in the U.S. and internationally and I’m doing it. I have a lot of plans for that. There are a lot of options right now.”

These days, Raz lives in L.A. part time, but his home and family — actress Meital Barda and their three children, ages 3, 8 and 10—are in Ramat HaSharon, Israel.

He and co-creator Avi Issacharoff are now writing scripts for the third season of “Fauda,” and are developing two new series for Netflix. One is about a joint CIA-Mossad operation to capture and kill a terrorist leader, and the other is a thriller about a man whose wife is killed in a mysterious hit-and-run accident.

“I want to do what we did in Israel, creating shows and acting in international shows, bringing my point of view and Avi’s point of view to people all over the world,” Raz said.

He hopes that viewers who tune in to the new episodes of “Fauda” will be entertained first, “and second, understand both sides of the conflict. I want them to understand that war is bad, no matter where you are — Afghanistan, Syria, Israel — and that there is a price for the actions that you take as a warrior.”

Raz doesn’t think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will end anytime soon, but he remains hopeful. “I think extremists on both sides are leading the herd,” he said. “The hope will come from people who understand that we are quite alike. The first thing is for both sides to learn the language. This is how we can start the peace process.”

The second season of “Fauda” is streaming on Netflix.

The New Zionist Plants Vines, Not Trees

Adam Bellos.

Adam Bellos’ stated mission is as grandiose as his personality. “I’m here to reignite the Zionist movement,” he says, without an ounce of facetiousness.

Injecting new blood into Zionism was the impetus for The Israel Innovation Fund (TIIF), a nonprofit Bellos founded last year to highlight Israeli culture. He points to both demographics and the Jewish state’s evolving image when he asserts that North America has lost its crown to Israel as the center of the Jewish world.

“Israel is cool and sexy and holy and fun. It’s the creative state,” he says. “It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.”

TIIF, he’s quick to add, is composed of 60 percent women, and aside from its executive director, David Hazony, and newly appointed president, Ted Sokolsky, all of TIIF’s staff members are under 40.

Stopping short of naming names, Bellos takes a shot at the reigning kingpins of the Jewish world, charging them with being wholly out of touch with the drives and desires of young Jews.

“You’ve got these old guys in a New York office telling a 25-year-old in Israel what Zionism is when they have no idea,” he says. Rejuvenating Jewish identity isn’t about gala dinners and planting trees, says Bellos in a not-so-subtle jab at the Jewish National Fund.

“It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.” — Adam Bellos

TIIF’s millennial version of tree planting is its flagship project, Wine on the Vine. The online fundraising platform connects people to Israel by planting vines at select wineries, with the lion’s share of proceeds going to support Israeli charities. The organization also hosts revenue-positive parties, from Zionist-feminism soirees to wine tasting events in art galleries.

Not bad for a boy from Cincinnati who, by his own admission, wasn’t exactly an honor roll student. But there’s no love lost from Bellos for his hometown. “There’s a reason I left at 18 and never looked back,” he says.

Having always nurtured dreams of being a filmmaker, Bellos moved to Chicago to study film and theater. But a 2007 stint in a study-abroad program at Tel Aviv University turned out to be a life-altering experience that would put his Hollywood ambitions on the back burner.

“I fell in love with a girl and I fell in love with Zionism and I fell in love with Israel,” says Bellos, his face breaking into a million-watt smile.

Even when the romantic relationship fell through, Bellos knew without question that Israel would become his home. He returned to the United States to study Judaism and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Arizona before making aliyah and volunteering in the army. Two-and-a-half years later, Bellos left Jerusalem to accept a job in Ningbo, China, running a belly dance company.

After a year, Bellos returned, this time to Tel Aviv. He enrolled in a master’s degree program at Tel Aviv University, but he never quite found his place professionally. He dabbled in everything from volunteering with the city’s young, professional community to consulting for former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren for the 2015 election, in which Oren was elected to the Knesset. Eventually, Bellos settled on playing the stock market, a venture that proved lucrative enough for him to realize his real passion of promoting Zionism.

He’s unapologetically pragmatic about the checks and balances of his ideals.

“I gotta be the guy who makes the money,” he says. “There’s so much passion out there and all these people have these great ideas, but you need money.

“Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to launch the hottest Jewish organizations in existence.”

Entertainment Executives Sign Letter Denouncing BDS Threat to Sue Netflix

Screenshot from Facebook.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is threatening to sue Netflix if they don’t drop the Israeli television show Fauda. In response, over 50 entertainment executives have signed a letter saying that they stand with Netflix.

The letter, issued by the Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), an organization that is aimed at countering BDS, denounced BDS’ targeting of Netflix as a “blatant attempt at artistic censorship.”

“The BDS movement seeks to isolate Israel in the cultural, academic, economic, and diplomatic arenas. Its myopic and simplistic anti-Israel worldview is threatened by the worldwide exposure Netflix has generated for Fauda’s nuanced portrayal of issues related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” the letter states. “This worldview was evident in the letter BDS wrote to Netflix, in which they continued their habit of using inaccurate and inflammatory language, such as ‘colonialist’ and ‘apartheid,’ to describe Israel. As always, they assign every evil imaginable to Israel, while absolving the Palestinians of any and all responsibility or agency.”

The letter added that the show provides a balanced portrayal of all sides of the Israel-Palestine issue to help foster dialogue on the issue, but BDS is attempting to shut down that dialogue.

“Attempts to block true understanding and instead force a black and white, good versus evil view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict upon the world are nothing new for BDS. “In threatening to sue Netflix for distributing a television series with which they disagree, they have simply taken those attempts to the next level of absurdity.”

Among the executives to sign the letter included Chairman and CEO of Downtown Records Josh Deutsch and Orly Adelson, president of Orly Adelson Productions.

The BDS letter attacking the show called it “racist propaganda for the Israeli occupying army and displays aggression towards the Palestinian people, and the process it is leading for freedom and independence.”

Fauda, which is Arabic for “chaos”, centers on the undercover Israeli Special Forces operating in Judea and Samaria to track down a Hamas terrorist. The second season is set to premiere on Netflix on May 24, although it has already premiered in Israel. The characters in Fauda have become hot topics in Israeli culture and the show is starting to catch on in the United States as well.

Lior Raz, the main actor and co-creator of the show, told The Washington Post, “It allows people to see the complexity of the conflict and to understand that everyone has a backstory, on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians.”

Raz added that he and his co-creator, journalist Avi Issachoroff, will change scenes if the Arab actors think their characters are being wrongly depicted.

Q&A with Laëtitia Eïdo: Actress Wants Her Work to Be a ‘Link Between People’

Photo by David Zamind

With a French father and Lebanese mother, “Fauda” star Laëtitia Eïdo attributes her versatility as an actress to her mixed ethnicity, as well as family religious ties to “the three big religions”: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

In her breakout role on the Israeli-created Netflix hit, Eïdo plays Shirin, a Palestinian doctor who works in the West Bank and becomes romantically involved with an Israeli special forces officer working undercover as an Arab. During an interview from Paris, Eïdo talked about the ways “Fauda” — which premiered its second season opener this month at the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles — has resonated across the globe and impacted her own attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can also catch her in theaters on Nov. 17 as the star of the Israeli film “Holy Air.”

Jewish Journal: I read that you’re French of Lebanese descent. What is your relationship to Israel/Palestine and how did you end up on an Israeli show?

Laëtitia Eïdo: I was born and raised in the south of France in a small area called Ardèche, a very beautiful town next to Lyon. [But] my family is very mixed. Actually, [while working in Israel] I discovered that I have some Lebanese Jewish family that came to Israel in the ’70s. Before that, my relationship to the show was just the relationship of a French actress brought to Israel by her roles. It started with “Dancing Arabs” (“A Borrowed Identity” in the U.S.) by Eran Riklis, and what happened is “Fauda’s” director watched the movie and wanted to work with me. [One day] my mother told me, “By the way, do you know that we have Jewish family?” I was even more mixed than I thought!

JJ: How does your mixed background serve you as an actress?

LE: What I try to be in my life and bring through my work is to be a link between people. My character, Shirin, in “Fauda,” is close to this, because she has a French father and spends more time in Paris than in Palestine. And the fact that she hasn’t spent much time in Palestine or Israel makes her neither on one side or the other. It positions her in this in-between space, which allows her to feel compassion, which is important as a doctor. And it allows her to refuse to be part of the conflict. She’s able to break those imaginary borders between people. This is exactly what I have inherited, being a mix of three religions and mixed cultures.

JJ: What are the biggest misconceptions you think people have about Israel and Palestine?

LE: It’s the same misconception on both sides, because I’ve been on both sides of the border. People are told that they’re different and they should fear the other side. But when it comes to a personal level — not on a political one — families are the same on both sides. They laugh and cry for the same things. And, actually, I really can’t tell where the hummus is the best!

JJ: Israel is controversial subject matter in many parts of the world. Has the reception to “Fauda” been different depending on where you are in the world?

LE: The reception to the show is intense everywhere. Apparently, the show is becoming a big hit in the Middle East — in countries like Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In Israel and Palestine, some people love the show, and others think the show is not balanced enough. But it’s really important to remember the show is a fiction, made of stories based on a much more complex and unreachable reality. As an artist I focus on some positive things, like the fact that since the show was first aired in Israel, some teachers had to open Arabic classes for new students wanting to understand their neighbors.

JJ: On “Fauda,” your character has an affair with an Israeli who pretends to be Arab. Do you think it’s possible an Israeli/Palestinian love affair could occur under the current circumstances? 

LE: I can only tell what I see around me. It’s still too rare, but these love stories do exist. They’ve always existed in any conflict in the world, and they will [continue to] exist. More, of course, would be better, because it helps shutting down the fear, as people and families get to know and understand each other through this mixed relationship.

Podcast – FAUDA: the Israeli Netflix TV hit with co-creator Avi Issacharoff

Fauda is currently streaming on Netflix. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

From HBO’s In Treatment to Showtime’s Homeland, Israel has become a prominent exporter of quality content for the American television industry. As an emerging studio, Netflix wasn’t about to miss out. They set their eyes on Fauda.

Fauda is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed Israeli TV shows in recent years. It tells the story of Doron, a member of a covert anti-terror unit in the Israeli military, whose world is split in two, between his undercover identity and his life back home.

Three months ago, Netflix acquired Fauda for global distribution. Avi Issacharoff, Fauda’s co-creator and an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs for Walla News and The Times of Israel, joins 2NJB to tall about the show and its worldwide success.

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