Reality show grapples with sex offender star

Reality show grapples with sex offender star

TV station screening 'HaKfar,' featuring five families battling for survival under 'pre-state conditions,' defends participant who abused a 13-year-old girl

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The Digmi family, one of the five competing families in reality show 'HaKfar,' with David Digmi, a convicted sex offender, on the left (Courtesy Channel 10)
The Digmi family, one of the five competing families in reality show 'HaKfar,' with David Digmi, a convicted sex offender, on the left (Courtesy Channel 10)

The producers of a new local reality show are under fire following revelations that one of its participants is a convicted sex offender who performed six months of community service for having sex with a 13-year-old when he was 19.

Channel 10’s show, “HaKfar,” or “The Village,” sets five Israeli families down in the desert for a month under conditions similar to those that prevailed during the establishment of the state; they rough it for a chance to win $1 million.

The news that the grown son of one of the families, David Digmi, has a criminal record for a sexual offense committed 12 years ago emerged just as the show prepared to premiere in the new fall season.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, alerted by the victim’s mother, broke the story. The woman said that when her daughter caught sight of Digmi in a promotional commercial for the reality show, she “just fell silent.”

The mother said that while the family has been trying to distance itself from the event, the show “just brings us back.” “He’s continuing his life, and my daughter’s at home, not working, not studying.”

Statements criticizing Digmi and Channel 10 came from Na’amat, the Movement of Working Women and Volunteers, and from Dana Pugach, director of the Noga Center for Victims of Crime at Ono Academic College. A Na’amat representative said the participation of a sex offender in a reality TV show was morally unacceptable, since such TV performers are seen as role models, particularly among younger viewers.

Pugach, an attorney, asked Channel 10 in a letter to reassess Digmi’s participation in the show, noting that the financial damage the corporation would suffer were its viewing schedule to be altered was outweighed, in her view, by the emotional fallout for the victim, who will be continually barraged by images of Digmi in the media.

In Channel 10’s response, it declared that Pugach’s objection really related more broadly to the thorny moral issue of when to allow those who have been punished by the law to return to public life. Plainly, on a legal level, sources at the TV station said, Digmi had paid for his crime.

Digmi himself has simply referred questions to Channel 10, which “knows it all and is updated on everything.” The TV station’s ombudsman said he was monitoring the episodes as they aired, but had thus far opted not to intervene.

The show was filmed a year ago, and features five families from around the country: the Digmis; the Shwebers, members of Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev; the Himmelmans, a typical Ashkenazi family from Ramat Hasharon; the Azulai family, a loud, boisterous clan whose daughter is the clear family leader, and the Zands, with two sons who have been sickly most of their lives.

The Digmis, a proud Moroccan family, present themselves as strong and capable, with the mother, Daniella, revealed as the silent but unmistakable head of the clan. David, tattooed and muscled, is featured in a teaser for the show (minute 0:41), saying in a threatening tone: “We’ll deal with them, those Azulais, as necessary.”

Digmi served six-and-a-half months of community service for his crime, working with his father, before marrying and starting a family.

The show’s Facebook page features a heated debate about Digmi’s appearance, alongside ongoing threads about the other families.

The Shweber family, competing in 'HaKfar,' hailing from Kibbutz Ketura (Courtesy Channel 10)
The Shweber family, competing in ‘HaKfar,’ hailing from Kibbutz Ketura (Courtesy Channel 10)

The reality stars themselves are banned from speaking to the press, but residents of Kibbutz Ketura, home to the Shweber family, remarked that the parents are “characters,” and the kibbutz wasn’t happy about having them miss a month of work due to the filming schedule.

Now that “HaKfar” is about to reach prime time, Ketura families are gathering together to watch it, but they’re not necessarily rooting for the Shwebers to win $1 million. The kibbutz is still a cooperative, and figuring out how to handle the money would “be a huge mess,” a resident said.

HaKfar airs on Channel 10 on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m.

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