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07/05/2013

Israeli comic hoaxes as Bedouin mother of 17

Fatma website

(Screen shot of Fatma's website)

A Bedouin mother of 17, living by day in deep poverty with her husband and his three other wives, and working nights on the Israeli standup comedy circuit -- it's a story that pretty much writes itself, no?

That's what the editors of Israeli mass circulation Hebrew daily appear to have been thinking when they dedicated major space Friday to an interview with "Fatma Vardi," the supposedly groundbreaking Bedouin funnywoman.

But with the ink barely dry on the Yedioth story, other Israeli media now are gleefully pointing out that "Fatma" is an entirely fictional character sprung from the imagination of Gila Zimmerman, an Israeli comedian and actor. 

The hoax wasn't terribly difficult to decode, according to a report from Ha'aretz, which notes that a simple Google search reveals that Vardi is not real but a longstanding character played by Zimmerman. The "Vardi" web site includes contact information for Zimmerman for those interested in future bookings.

Yedioth responded to the embarrassment with a defensive statement suggesting the paper is not quite ready to accept it got things wrong. Not only did "Vardi" present herself as Bedouin, the newspaper said, but that claim was backed by Israeli radio host Moshe Timor, who "told our reporter that in the past he even met with the woman's villiage mukhtar (leader) and persuaded him to let her perform on the radio.

"If we were mistaken," the paper's statement continued, "we apologize to our readers and we promise to draw the necessary conclusions."

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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