Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz sat with The Hollywood Reporter senior film writer Tatiana Siegel on Wednesday to discuss their hit—but divisive—Israeli wartime thriller at the latest TV Talks panel at New York’s 92nd Street Y.
Going into the second-season release of Fauda on Netflix last week, the foreign language Israeli-Palestinian conflict drama had received a great deal of acclaim.
Last year, The New York Times named Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz’s series as one of the season’s best programs. The first season won best drama, best actor and other awards from the Israeli Television Academy. And the series, to date, is streaming internationally in nearly 200 countries.
That kind of attention, however, doesn’t come without detractors.
Earlier this year, for instance, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as BDS, threatened legal action against Netflix should it continue airing the program.
Fauda follows an undercover Israeli unit behind Palestinian lines as its members fight to stop terrorists in the West Bank. BDS cited the political thriller as “racist propaganda for the Israeli occupation.”
“This is wrong, this is a mistake,” co-creator and veteran journalist Issacharoff said of the threats during The Hollywood Reporter‘s TV Talks discussion with senior film writer Tatiana Siegel.
“It’s more than a mistake, it’s ridiculous, really,” interjected Raz. “The BDS movement, they don’t want to take the show out from Netflix, they just want to take us out from Israel. I think it’s much more than that and I think that it’s really ridiculous.”
The BDS threats were just one of the many points discussed in the wide-ranging, hour-long screening and talk at New York’s 92nd Street Y. Issacharoff believes, however, that the majority of the criticism he’s read is rooted in the series’ politics, not its quality.
“I think that much of the critics, the negative ones weren’t about Fauda as a TV show. They didn’t say, ‘It’s bad acting.’ They didn’t say, ‘It’s bad directing,’ or [that] the shooting wasn’t good or the music was bad. No—they had political issue with the state of Israel, with the occupation,” Issacharoff said. “But then again, this is a TV show. Come on! Let us watch the TV show, and if you have any criticism about the TV show, say it! But they didn’t say it.”
Politics aside, Fauda has certainly found an international foothold and a dedicated following. The auditorium was filled to the brim last night and boasted a line well around the block before doors opened at 7:30 p.m. And in its native Israel, too, Issacharoff explained, the show has ignited a fervor for protagonist Doron Kavillio (Raz), his comrades and his terrorist enemies alike.
“In the beginning when we wrote the show, we thought that we’d [hear] from the right wingers in Israel who hate us because we’re humanizing the terrorists. We thought that the left wing would hate us because we’re showing terrorists doing bad stuff.” But it turns out that, critics and audiences from both sides of the spectrum have raved from the start. Because, Issacharoff said, he and Raz are intent on showing the complexities of war where “sometimes the bad guy’s the good guy and sometimes the good guy’s the bad guy,” right wingers think it’s a right-leaning show and left wingers think it’s a left-leaning show, which “is one of the great things that happened from the show.”
Fauda even has its share of fans in the political sphere. “I will tell you something,” Raz teased later in the night. “I got a phone call from one of the highest ministers in Israel who said that he wanted to participate in the third season of Fauda. We said ‘no.’”
The two admitted to being “shocked” that their streaming series has found similar success overseas. While Raz said that they initially portended to sell an English-language adaptation of the series (“We thought that this is the way that we can make it in America”), a potential rights exchange with an unnamed Oscar winner fell through and when Netflix bought in, they wanted to run it strictly in its original incarnation. In hindsight, the two believe it’s their dedication to authenticity — having Jewish actors play Jewish characters speaking Hebrew and Arab actors play Arab characters speaking Arabic, for example — that resonates with even American audiences.
“People love to hear different languages, foreign languages,” Issacharoff posited. “It’s about listening to the Arabic and the Hebrew version and watching the subtitles.”
An authentic portrayal of the daily dangers facing Fauda’s central military unit is further ensured by Raz, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in an undercover special ops unit.
Coincidentally, his time in the forces also informs his acting today; it’s where his roots in playing pretend were first seeded—though, of course, with much higher stakes at the time.
“It was an undercover unit that was doing quite a similar thing that you see in the show, more or less,” Raz said. “In order to [do that], you have to be an amazing actor…. You have to act for your life, and if you’re not a good actor, you could die, and your friends could die, and that terrorist that you’ve been after for the whole time could run away just because of your bad acting. If you don’t have the right accent, if you are a little scared, if you don’t know how to move and your body language is different. So you have to be an amazing actor in order to be in these special forces.”
And in the end, it’s those life and death circumstances that interest Raz and Issacharoff as filmmakers and storytellers. Others may read into the series’ political undertones and partisan leanings—some of which are only natural in that Raz and Issacharoff are themselves Israeli.
“If Palestinians want to write a show, they should write a show,” said Raz.
Issacharoff explained that “one of the aims of the show was to show the complexity of the conflict,” not to determine who’s right and wrong.
“Many people in the world think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in very shallow [terms]. Keep it simple, be news or fake news, be right or wrong, be just like that,” Issacharoff said.
“And as people who are living in Israel, as people who were there on the ground and still see things from very close, I think that one of the messages of the show is that it’s not about that. It’s so complicated, and at the end of the day, there’s so many different shades of this grey area of the conflict. It’s so complicated to understand that … this is war. War is bad, and it’s not simple.”
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