There is a brief moment near the conclusion of Atomic Falafel, the 2015 film dubbed by Variety as an Israeli answer to Dr. Strangelove, when director Dror Shaul presses pause on his sendup of the Israeli-Iranian nuclear standoff, and injects some real talk.
The scene finds Israel’s defence minister and the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, each man poised to launch a nuclear arsenal with the touch of a button, meeting via online video conference. After hurling an array of insults and taunts at one another, the two men eventually fall into an uncomfortable silence. Finally, Menachem, the mononymous Israeli defence minister, speaks up:
“So, how are you?” he asks.
“OK. Haven’t slept since Monday,” his Iranian counterpart responds.
“Me too,” Menachem replies.
The two quickly realize how much they have in common, and agree to a ceasefire. But in true Strangelovian fashion, it doesn’t last, and both sides are soon frantically re-arming their bombs. In the end, it takes a quick-thinking Israeli teenage hacker to save the Middle East from nuclear Armageddon.
Atomic Falafel, which had its premiere last year at the Montreal World Film Festival and returned to Canada during the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (it’s currently streaming on Netflix), parodies everything Israeli – military and political leadership, conversion, circumcision, Israeli youths’ obsession with technology, not to mention falafel balls and the sabra tendency to smother them with the spiciest of sauces.
It also lampoons many of the outside forces weighing on Israel – Iran, of course, but also the self-importance of nuclear watchdogs, among other themes. In its equal-opportunity approach to satire, Atomic Falafel is truly deserving of the comparisons to Dr. Strangelove.
It’s good, healthy even, to have a laugh every once in a while about Israel’s security concerns, but that doesn’t change the fact that defending the Jewish state is a delicate and complicated matter. Last week, a new man assumed the task, as Avigdor Liberman ascended to the role of defence minister.
Liberman’s inclusion in the government, along with the five members of Knesset affiliated with his Yisrael Beitenu party, caps weeks of coalition wheeling and dealing. His alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu came about after the prime minister reportedly attempted to coax Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union camp, into a unity government. That deal fell apart, opening the door for Liberman.
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Critics of the coalition agreement argue that Liberman doesn’t possess the military experience and expertise a defence minister needs, certainly not when compared to Moshe Ya’alon, the former Israel Defence Forces chief he has replaced. Recent polls suggest that Israelis would have rather seen Ya’alon continue in the post, and some of Netanyahu’s other coalition partners have publicly voiced concerns about the outspoken Liberman. One survey even indicates that a theoretical new political party with Ya’alon at the helm could outpoll the prime minister and Likud.
Time will tell whether Liberman is up to his new task, and whether this government can survive. Meanwhile, the dizzying pace and all the twists and turns of Israeli politics might very well make for a hilarious sequel to Atomic Falafel. There is, no doubt, more than enough material to work with.