Satirical Israeli media stir the wrath of rabbi

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If former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has his way, TV's hottest new satirical program will disappear from Israeli screens.

Called "Hartzufim," it is similar to the popular British program "Spitting Image," in which ridiculous statements emerge from the mouths of puppets designed to look like members of the Royal Family, eminent churchmen and top politicians.

"Hartzufim," following the same formula, makes fun of leading figures in Israeli public life.

Most viewers find this hilarious, but Yosef, one of those most often satirized, is not amused.

He doesn't, of course, see the show because it is screened on Friday night. But what he has heard about it has sent him into orbit, and he stridently demands that it be axed.

Yosef is backed up, of course, by Shas, the political party of observant Sephardic Jews, that he established and controls.

Some leading politicians also have had complaints against the producers of "Hartzufim" but for exactly the opposite reason.

They have indignantly asked why they are not being featured on the program. And when it was explained to them that only a limited number of puppets had been made because each one costs $3,000, the politicos offered to pay $3,000 each out of their own pocket just for the privilege of being ridiculed on the weekly show.

Meanwhile, the producers soon hope to be raking in money from the sale of dolls, T-shirts and coffee cups bearing the likeness of "Hartzufim" puppets.

TV satire is mild compared to what appears on the pages of the newspaper Davar Aher, which means both "Something Different" and "Another Issue." Among the tasteless headlines in a pre-Passover issue were the following: *The government has decided not sell the chametz of the state to an Arab this year for fear that he will distribute it among the hungry people of Gaza.

*Iran has executed 360,000 girls to satisfy the needs of 5,000 suicide bombers in paradise. Davar Aher is constantly having a go at politicians, with Prime Minister Shimon Peres among those satirized in its post-Passover issue. Alluding to the fact that Peres had gone on a state visit to Qatar at a time that residents of Kiryat Shmona were still sleeping in air raid shelters for fear of further Hezbollah rockets, the paper featured a headline announcing:

"Thanks to improved relations with the Persian Gulf states, residents of Kiryat Shmona — without leaving their shelters — can now order groceries by Internet from Qatar supermarkets."

Lest anyone accuse it of favoritism, Davar Aher also made fun of Likud's contender for the premiership, Benjamin Netanyahu, in that same issue.