Television advertisements featuring two puppets named “plug” and “socket” have sparked debates about gay representation in Israel, after rumours the characters might be gay were re-ignited following the arrival of an adopted baby puppet.
The puppets, named Sheka and Teka in Hebrew, have appeared in promotions for the state-owned Israel Electric corporation for more than a decade, and many have speculated whether or not the pair might be gay.
The company’s newest advertisement, however, is provoking some gay activists to declare the couple as having officially stepped out of the closet, Associated Press reports.
In the advert, Sheka and Teka are seen in a hospital nursery, where a newborn baby can be seen in an incubator. Teka congratulates Sheka on the birth of his child.
Later in the advert, the pair sit on a park bench with the baby. They breathe in the fresh air which the company comments is made possible by cleaner energy production. Teka then sniffs the baby and suggests that it needs changing.
Some gay rights advocates have accused the company of being intentionally ambiguous about the characters’ sexuality in order to generate publicity.
Divir Bar in nightlife magazine City Mouse wrote: “This should weigh on the conscience of everyone who worked on this campaign, who will come home and ask themselves whether they would want to raise a child in a country where the electric company says: ‘Hide, don’t be proud.’”
Israel Electric said they did not understand why the advertisement was causing controversy.
Oren Helman, a senior vice president who is behind the advert, said: “They represent the concerned Israeli, who is really worried about the air quality he is breathing and the environment he lives in. The baby that was born now represents the next generation.
“There are no hints or ambiguities here.”
In a column on the Walla website, writer and blogger Nir Hoffman slammed the advertisement for making a mockery of gay people.
He wrote: “As long as the policy of ambiguity continues, Sheka and Teka are preserving and perpetuating a situation in which there is something strange, funny and mysterious in homosexuality that must be hidden and should not be spoken about.”
Gil Kol, a spokesman for the Israeli national LGBT task force, claimed that critics against the advertisement were overreacting however.
He said: “Sheka and Teka have represented the Israeli Electric Corp for years and have been gay for years. Having kids and expanding the family seems to be a natural stage in the evolution of the story. That pretty much represents what is happening in the LGBT community.”
Other advertisements have featured the two characters on a shaded paddle boat in the Dead Sea, lounging on the couch in their pyjamas, and also sharing a room with single beds.
The adverts are designed as public service announcements, with many warning children about the dangers of climbing electricity towers or getting too close to space heaters.
Some have compared Sheka and Teka to the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, whose relationship has also long been questioned in popular culture.
In June, for instance, the New Yorker showed its support behind the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), by featuring an equal marriage themed front cover with Bert and Ernie.
Although Israel remains largely a conservative country, with sections often deeply opposed to homosexuality, it is also seen as one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of gay rights.
Same-sex marriages are recognised in Israel, but must be conducted overseas as only the religious authorities: Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Druze can perform marriages, and none offer gay couples the chance to marry.