Racism, Homophobia Stir Controversy on Israeli 'Big Brother'

Two housemates are sent packing as a government official blasts the show for broadcasting "verbal violence."

The new season of Big Brother has been making headlines for CBS recently in the U.S., with several houseguests making racist remarks. The current season of Big Brother Israel got off to a similar start following its premiere in early May, with two verbally offensive housemates — father and son amateur comedy duo Roni and Gili Maili — frequently flying into fits of rage.

The controversy started with the father Roni Maili's racial slur aimed at Ethiopian born model Tahunia Rubel in which he said "once the lights are off [she is] nowhere to be found." He added that she shouldn't walk beside black walls because her skin color would blend in too much. This caused Pnina Tamano-Shata of Israeli government body Knesset to call for Roni Maili's immediate eviction by Keshet Broadcasting, which airs the show in Israel.

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Tamano-Shata said: "It's inconceivable that the show's production company stands still, letting verbal violence play out in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers." Knesset's lobby against racism and discrimination demanded the expulsion of Roni Maili.

A few days later, his verbal attack on gay houseguest Levana Gogman was too much for Keshet. Maili yelled at Gogman, "You are destined to die all alone because you're a woman in a man's body ... you're the most disgusting lesbian there is," all the while making fun of her demeanor and appearance. This caused producers to send Roni Maili packing on Day 15.

Last Sunday, it was Gili Maili's turn to get the boot by producers after a similar homophobic slur targeting gay housemate Anat Zaig. He told Zaig "you are rotten and despicable and don't belong in this world." On Sunday, Keshet released a statement announcing Gili Maili's expulsion on Day 56, which was decided following "numerous offenses, breaking the laws of the Big Brother house and according to the ethical rules the show is obliged to enforce."

This is not the first time Big Brother Israel has come under fire. Last year a former houseguest filed a $650,000 lawsuit against Kuperman Productions, which is responsible for the show in Israel, alleging he was forced to take psychiatric drugs throughout his time in the house. This soon prompted an official summoning by Members of Knesset for Keshet and Kuperman Productions officials to testify before the Education Committee and explain the accusations.

Nevertheless, Big Brother Israel remains the most popular TV show in recent years, let alone the most lucrative reality franchise. Last season kicked off with the most watched premiere in Israel’s history, drawing a 45.5 percent viewership, just over 1.5 million viewers. Aside from online feeds, Israeli cable networks also provide a popular pay-per-view channel which provides a live 24/7 feed from the Big Brother house. Season five is slated to end near the end of August.