When “Matzav HaUma” (“State of the Union”), a popular Israeli talk show that takes a satirical look at the country’s political landscape, comes to New York next month, host and creator Lior Schleien hopes to learn if there is a disconnect between Israelis and Americans.
“People here in Israel get the feeling that the Obama administration, and the U.S. in general, are not such good friends of ours anymore,” said Schleien. “We keep reading about the ways American Jews see us and the wrongdoings of the Israeli government. And so this is a good chance to come and see with our own eyes where we’re standing, because without America we are worth nothing in the middle of the Middle East.”
And if the situation in Israel continues to deteriorate, said the comedian, “We can use our time in New York, go for a Green Card marriage and just leave altogether and stay with you guys.”
“Matzav HaUma” airs twice a week and consists of banter between Schleien and his three panelists, Orna Banai, Einav Galili and Guri Alfi, and interviews with politicians and celebrities. Israeli President Shimon Peres, American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Israel-born fashion model Bar Refaeli were among the recent guests who participated in the irreverent discussions on popular culture and politics. Last season, the show’s sixth, it averaged a rating of 24 (meaning it was watched by 24 percent of the market’s households) and won the Israeli Academy Award for Best Comedy Show.
The Jan. 14 live performance will be held at the NYU Skirball Center in Manhattan. Be warned, Anglos: virtually the entire show will be in Hebrew.
His talk show, Schleien acknowledged, is modeled after similar American programs, such as Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” He called the two hosts “pioneers,” because of their ability to integrate political statements into the comedic aspects of their shows.
Schleien has more in common with Maher than the format of his talk show: Like Maher, Schleien is an unapologetic atheist. In fact, for the last three seasons “Matsav HaUma” has aired an “unprecedented” segment called, “There’s No God.”
“Nowadays, a secular/atheist agenda in Israel is a very unique one because the country is getting more and more religious by the second,” he said. “I know [the U.S.] is going through a similar problem with the Tea Party and the Evangelicals.”
Unlike Stewart or Maher, Schleien said he prefers to keep his political affiliation to himself. Not that this necessarily stops anyone from speculating. Adding to the intrigue, Schleien’s “non-wife” (“We are not married because in Israel you can only be married by Orthodox rabbis”) is Merav Michaeli, the fourth-ranking member of the Labor party in the Knesset.
“But this doesn’t mean that I’m for the Labor party, or even voted for them,” he said.
Does that imply that Schleien may have voted against Michaeli?
“The million shekel question,” he said. “It’s not a matter of me exposing my political views, but I don’t want her reading in your newspaper that I didn’t support her in the election. And that doesn’t mean I didn’t!”