This analysis of Haim Hecht's television series called "Fixing Israel", an investigative show about what's "gone wrong" in Israel, by Tal Arbel, an MA student in the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and Ideas at Tel Aviv University, was originally published in The Seventh Eye on February 28, 2007. In a detailed critique of the show, Arbel understands Hecht's pretentious demand for a blanket organizational reform of the Zionist enterprise as blurring the boundary between a television show and a realistic, productive public campaign.
After going into battle against drunk and reckless drivers (License to Kill, Keshet Broadcasting); finding a new way to wipe out the criminal epidemic that threatens our personal safety (The Home Front, Keshet); helping us separate the good guys from the bad when it comes to professional repairmen (Fair or Phony? Keshet); and even joining the fight, as of late, to save the educational system and the future of our children (billboards for the teachers’ union campaign), Haim Hecht—a modern-day Jeremiah, would-be reformer, and unique phenomenon on the local media scene—is fed up with small “repairs”; he’s decided to conduct a major overhaul of the National Home.
As described in the promo on Keshet’s site, Hecht’s new show, Fixing Israel, is “an investigative series that attempts to discover what has really gone wrong here and what we have to do to get ourselves back on track.” Like other shows of this genre, the program covers typical Israeli “failings,” as the program refers to them, tries to get a handle on them, and suggests ways to “fix” them: What to do about rising unemployment? The "brain drain"? Palestinian terror? But instead of placing the focus on investigating exceptional cases—exposing shortcomings, negligence, and irregularities (on the assumption that there are principles, accepted public standards, that the press must safeguard)—Fixing Israel sees the entire status quo as unacceptable. In other words, the show comes out against the overall model of political life in Israel today—the political situation, governance, distribution of resources, public policy on various issues, and in general, the way in which government institutions, the army, and the law operate in Israel. In fact, in the name of an abstract ideal of a civil society, to which we all ostensibly subscribe (based, of course, on the imagined past of an enlightened Israel whose former glory must be restored), Hecht is demanding a blanket organizational reform of the Zionist “enterprise.”
Representative of the People
Even if, theoretically, it might be possible to transform such megalomanic —almost embarrassing—pretentiousness into a program that engaged in serious, critical, penetrating debate on the fundamental problems of the State of Israel today, Hecht avoids doing so at all costs. From the shows that have aired to date, it is hard to learn anything new about Israel’s ailing economy or the difficulties confronting the educational system. As a rule, the presentation of issues is incredibly simplistic, and every effort is made not to deviate from the accepted truths known to everyone and discussed to death in the typical Friday night living room symposium. As for the structure of the program, what Hecht offers in place of a genuine investigation can only be described as a strange fusion of Uvdah (Fact, one of Israel’s preeminent investigative programs), Ro’im Olam (World Watch, a foreign affairs televised newsmagazine), and Mishpacha Choreget (Debt Slayers, a reality show about families in debt). Accordingly, most of Hecht’s show is given over to an unfounded comparison between Israel and Ireland, which is supposed to serve as an example of a state with similar “basic stats” (“it’s as if they were separated at birth”) that was able to eliminate significant problems and achieve happiness. Not only is the comparison not plausible historically, and based on half-truths and erroneous information, but Ireland itself is made to look like a tourist brochure on the show: picturesque, charming, and unreal.
From “Chaocracy” to Government by Experts
At the start of the first show in the series, Hecht appears in a dark suit and tie—the picture of dignified seriousness—at the heart of the Israeli secular public’s place of mourning for the last decade: Kikar Malchei Yisrael, renamed Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square). “Exactly one week ago, David Grossman stood here in this square and let us have it over the head with a ten-kilo hammer—what am I saying ten kilo, ten tons!” Hecht says with his typical understatement, gesticulating wildly against a backdrop of dramatic music. As is his habit, he looks straight into the camera, pontificating in urgent tones, as if signaling his viewers that what is about to take place on the small screen over the next hour is a matter of life and death: “The state is falling apart on us before our very eyes…as a result of hollow leadership, corrupt politicians, endless cronyism, and a long list of fiascos…[But] I am telling you, Israel can be fixed.”
The style of the opening minutes recalls, more than anything, an emergency broadcast or a recruitment spot of some sort—and with good reason. The creators of Fixing Israel are making inspired use here of the connection between the Second Lebanon War (Grossman’s “hollow-men speech,” battle photos playing in the background) and the “fight for the home” that will take place as part of the show. From the start, Fixing Israel has billed itself as a campaign to save the homeland, drafting its viewers/sons, who have barely had time to take off their uniforms: “In the wake of the war, and the failings that it exposed, for the first time in my life I felt frightened. Genuine fear for the future of the State of Israel,” Hecht confesses, in what could be alarm—or satisfaction. “The commissions of inquiry deal with the past. The real question is what do we do tomorrow?” The war, with its roster of “failings,” was not only the impetus for the program but also, foremost, proof positive of the “chaocracy” theory that Hecht promotes throughout the show and a classic example of Israel’s state of disarray: “When Makeshift and its close cousin Slipshod combined with their old pal Backscratching, the result was a recipe for disaster.”
Hecht relates to Israel’s government as if it were a building-maintenance company whose sole responsibility is to keep the water flowing, change a blown fuse, and fix a leaky water heater for the tenants/citizens of the house/state. Hecht, a “tenant” who cares, feels justifiably cheated: For years, the stairwell has been dirty, the sewage is overflowing, and the stench is rising from every corner. But as far as he is concerned, there is no point switching to a different company because they are all the same: “One is as bad as the other,” he says in explaining the difference between the parties on the Right and the Left. To “fix Israel,” he encourages its citizens to stop waiting for the powers-that-be, take matters into their own hands, and run their lives and the houses they live in by themselves: “First of all, we have to take care of ourselves, without any favors from anyone.” Like the families whose homes were used as settings for Fair or Phony? all we have to do is find a reliable professional the next time something breaks—to replace the power-hungry and “corrupt politicians” in the government with “trustworthy individuals who are free of corruption.” According to Hecht, industrialist Stef Wertheimer, for example, is not a bad candidate.
Hecht has nothing against democracy. On the contrary, his shows ostensibly promote government of the people, by the people, and for the people. But in practice, given such a reductive view of the polity, and an instrumental, apolitical understanding of what constitutes a state, there is little that remains of representative democracy in Hecht’s vision of an enlightened Israel. Different ideological positions hold no importance; the concept of law is irrelevant; there is no need for separation of powers; and any form of struggle over Israel’s values as a society is rendered unnecessary.
In a recent review, Ariana Melamed referred to the genre of Haim Hecht-style investigative shows—of which Fixing Israel is a classic example and his most ambitious undertaking to date—as “teledemagoguery” (Ynet, November 12, 2006). As someone who has been following Hecht’s “televigraphy” in recent years, it seems to me that this is a fitting but insufficient description, and that the uniqueness of the Hechtian phenomenon, as well as its danger, is not limited to the cheapening of investigative reporting, the tortuous attempts at persuasion, and the wild gestures. As I have endeavored to suggest, what distinguishes the new series, like Hecht’s previous efforts, is the hubris of actively taking steps to “fix” the “failings” discussed as part of the show. Hecht does not content himself with theoretical discussion and the offering of advice. The way he sees it, his work as a journalist is a mission of sorts that demands active involvement. This takes the form of promoting civic reforms as well as openly mediating between the Israeli public—whose wishes and needs Hecht presumes to express on this show—and the government.
Already in his earlier shows, Hecht was blurring the boundary between TV show and public campaign. A list of names and contact information of the repairmen who passed the fairness test à la Hecht was publicized on the Internet site of Fair or Phony? (“Forum of the Righteous,” Keshet), instead of the Labor Ministry setting the standards of professional reliability among professional tradesmen in Israel. After recommending (on The Home Front) that Israel adopt the so-called “three strikes” system of criminal punishment (that calls for mandatory sentencing for third-time felony offenders) used in most jurisdictions in the U.S., Hecht invited viewers to sign a petition calling for a change in the criminal justice system in Israel. And as part of his efforts to “change the statistics” on road accidents, he embarked on a campaign to distribute breathalyzers to drivers to measure their blood-alcohol levels and created a lobby to push for legislation on this issue. With Fixing Israel, Hecht is taking things one step further: Viewers and Internet users are invited to submit solutions to national problems, with the promise that “formal recommendations on many issues will eventually be presented to the Knesset.” Instead of leaving the work to the relevant administrative and supervisory bodies, Hecht is transforming himself into an executive authority in his own right—extending a hand through the screen, straight into the heart of government.
Tal Arbel is an essayist and a doctoral student in the humanities.