Prime minister and his country star in ‘Israel: The Royal Tour’

Los Angeles Times travel editor

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a soccer player and fan. Travel journalist Peter Greenberg is not—and perhaps even less so after his experience filming “Israel: The Royal Tour,” which makes its debut at 7 p.m. Thursday on PBS SoCal.

Greenberg’s series gives an in-depth look at a country (topics have included New Zealand and Mexico, among others) through the eyes of its head of state. He began filming the Israel story in June 2012.

In the film, Netanyahu says he likes to watch and play soccer. Position? Left forward. Then Greenberg acknowledges he wasn’t much of an athlete and that his position was “left out.”


The prime minister asks the journalist to play goalie and launches some kicks toward the accidental athlete, who proves himself fairly hapless. But on one kick, the prime minister flinches and says he thinks something snapped. The “something” was a tendon and as a result, he spent several weeks in a cast.

End of filming.

Schedules and healing being what they are, the show resumed production about 13 months later.

At the “Israel” premiere Tuesday night, Greenberg said the prime minister hadn’t seen the finished product and said he didn’t know how the head of state would react. Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and son Yair attended. (John Lampl, one of the production assistants on the film, confirmed on Wednesday that Greenberg got the hug he was hoping for.)

The hourlong result gives a close-up view of Israel that’s suffused with history and humor. It’s impossible to portray Israel without acknowledging the problems the nation has faced and still faces. Neither the film nor Netanyahu ignores them.

But the accent here is on portraying a range of places, enhanced by the prime minister’s willingness to pilot a boat in the Red Sea, feed dolphins, raft the Jordan River and ride a bike in Tel Aviv. Greenberg said Netanyahu’s security team wasn’t thrilled with some of these ideas, but in the end, the prime minister’s wishes prevailed.

That gives the film a certain buoyancy, including an end-of-the-film shot of the journalist and the prime minister reading the newspaper as they bob in the Dead Sea.