Shame! The Good Wife does a good job of branding Israel
Seasons six and seven of The Good Wife, an otherwise smart, sophisticated TV series with inspired acting, does a pretty good hatchet job on Palestine and Palestinians by hardly mentioning them and whitewashing Israel.
This series, written by Robert and Michelle King, has attracted millions of viewers all over the world. The accumulation of bits and pieces about Israel and Israel’s so-called “Defense Forces” (IDF) inserted almost haphazardly into the script leaves the viewer with a distorted picture about both Palestinians and Israel.
Viewers watching this series, in my opinion, cannot be blamed if they end up doubting Palestinians even exist.
There are many jaw-dropping examples in these two seasons (I haven’t watched the previous ones), all clearly meant to “brand Israel”. The father of Brand Israel is Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York (2001 to 2005) and subsequently head of the newly instituted Brand Management Team for Israel (2007), a team that has come up with ideas to attract tourists such as shooting at targets dressed as Palestinians in a “mock” counter-terrorism boot-camp.
That has made me wonder if the scriptwriters Robert and Michelle King were paid by an Israeli PR agency to include the propaganda or if Michelle, who is Jewish (Robert is Catholic) has dual citizenships in the US and in Israel, as so many American Jews have, and defines her Jewish identity the way Israel defines it for her.
Or maybe the couple has imbibed the Palestine exception by osmosis and are themselves brainwashed by U.S. media and therefore unconscious of the political impact on the viewer of what they are doing.
Or maybe they are just being provocative. Robert has said in an interview:
I think even more important than gender is probably religion and politics. Michelle is Jewish and I’m Catholic, and I think that energy comes through in some of the religious elements in the show and the culturally Jewish elements in the show. And then the other is politics. We’re always turned off by how knee-jerk liberal TV tends to be. Yes, maybe that’s most close to our politics, but it just makes TV boring.
But the “Jewish elements” in the show are not simply “religious and cultural”. The young Jewish character (Marissa Gold) makes references to misappropriated Palestinian Arab culture (falafel) and Judaism (there isn’t a single reference to Zionism in the show) and connects both culture and religion to Israel and politics for the viewer. When it comes to Jews and Israel in this series, politics is not the “other” theme; culture, religion and politics are all intermixed in a single running commentary.
What’s more, as Maya Kadosh, Israel’s Houston-based deputy consul to the Southwest United States, says in The New York Times in reference to Americans serving in the Jewish state’s army (as Marissa has done in The Good Wife), these kids
are not less American when they serve in the [Israeli] army. They are more American. They feel they protect the values of the place they came from, and they also protect the values of the state of Israel.
In other words, Israel and the United States are one and the same and this is exactly what the show uncritically dramatizes. Marissa Gold frequently mentions that she has “served in the IDF for six months” as a casual conversation driver in social situations on the show. She doesn’t even need to explain what “IDF” stands for, as everyone with whom she is talking seems to understand and be impressed with the adventures of this smart, sympathetic young Jewish American in Israel.
- Oh my god did you kill anyone? No? But you wanted romance?
- I wanted action, just like so I could write about it. I am a frustrated novelist.
- … The Israeli army? Really?
- Yeah but it’s not like I shot anyone. One time I did this great thing along the Egyptian border. They have these five women sharpshooter teams camouflaged in the desert. You stay all night in a pod about the size of these two tables. Five women all night and all you can do is whisper; it’s really terrifying but really cool.
- Did you see any terrorists?
- No just nomads mostly; now I am here in this stupid juice bar 3000 miles away; it’s 11 pm in Israel and my friends are slipping into their desert pods right now and I am here talking to you. Weird.
- …Were your parents afraid for you being over there?
- Of getting stabbed, no? Of turning Orthodox yeah.
So romantic, so sexy. Being in the IDF is just like being in a summer camp with a bunch of other young women, cozying up under the desert stars with nary a terrorist in sight to stab you, just “nomads” — a disingenuous reference to Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab (Negev), whom Israel is evicting from their traditional lands in order to make way for Jewish-only “settlements”.
The only danger for a young secular American Jew in Israel, it appears, is “turning Orthodox”, because “everybody there [in Israel] talks about God like he is an uncle hiding in the attic; drives you crazy”.
Marissa finds a job for her father, Eli Gold, through her connections in the IDF: “I knew his daughter in the IDF; her dad contacted me,” says Marissa — as if the deadly Israeli army were a finishing school for young Jewish American women. The job is with the chief of staff to Israel’s communication minister, who wants to run for a seat in the Knesset (again, no need to explain to the viewer what “Knesset” means), “and in a few years prime minister.”
What is more natural, the premise of this subplot goes, than for an American Jew to serve in the army of another country if that country is the Jewish state? And what’s more natural than for the Jewish campaign manager of a Chicago governor to consider a job in an Israeli political campaign? Marissa says to her father: “I am giving you a chance to have an impact. You wanted Netanyahu out; here is your chance. Mr. Naftali is offering you twice as much as you are making now.”
And it doesn’t stop there. The motif of Jews as a victimized people is inserted in the show for the sole purpose, in my view, of leading the viewer to regard the Jewish state as a victim and deflect from the reality of Israel victimizing Palestinian Arabs. References to Jewish historical victimhood/suffering are intermixed with references to Israel, which stands for “Jewish” in people’s minds, despite its 20.8 % remaining Palestinian Arab citizens.
A Jewish partner in the law firm on the show throws off this line: “She’s black, she suffered, like my people.” Another Jewish partner tries to block a dying client from giving money to the parents of the child who had donated her kidney to him, because the parents (“the Farsoons, Izzat and Helga; their daughter’s name was Talila”) “want to give money to this charity [referred to with a sneer as “The Strong Arm of Liberty”] and there is a possibility that this charity might be connected to Hamas”.
The partner’s parting shot to the character arguing that she just wants to facilitate the will of a dying man is: “Maybe he [the client] can find another way to facilitate the killing of Jews.”
In The Good Wife, mention of anti-Semitism is thrown casually about at the drop of a hat, such as in a quick conversation about coasters with the image of George Bernard Shaw on them in someone’s living room: “Big anti-Semitism,” says the Jewish partner in passing. One partner says in an altercation with another: “And he sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong.” The rejoinder is: “That’s code for Jewish.” Now this could be meant to draw a laugh, but there are plenty of viewers who would take it seriously as a reference to an anti-Semitic trope.
Viewers are led to couple references to anti-Semitism with references to the Jewish state and statements like “Client spoke out on Israel; that’s why she [lawyer running for office] needs to drop him”. The result is a false association of anti-Semitism with attacks on the Zionist Jewish state.
The “indiscretion” committed by the American politician raising money to run for office but worried about being anti-Israel turns out to be an article that he “wrote when he was in law school about how Israeli settlements violate the Geneva Convention.”
The offender himself writes this political faux pas off for the viewer as “a thought project from way back”. He merely harbored “a youthful fascination with the Palestinian cause.”
Killing Palestinian Arabs or Islamophobia, on the other hand, does not figure in the script at all. The word “Palestine” or “Palestinian” is not mentioned much. In fact, the only time I heard the word “Palestinian” clearly articulated in series six and seven of The Good Wife is in the following line: “Your brother is having an affair with a Palestinian married man who also does bare-backed gay porn under the name Phil.”
The one reference to Islam is of a judge who we learn has converted to Islam (we see him praying in his office). This is followed by an episode in which his stomach is rumbling loudly and disruptively in the courtroom, because he is amusingly “fasting in Ramadan” and cannot keep his mind on the proceedings.
Although it is apparent that the “oppression” being indirectly referred to in a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) case the show dramatizes is occurring in the West Bank, the viewer never hears the word “Palestine” or “Palestinian” associated with it. The BDS case as shown on The Good Wife perfectly serves the topsy-turvy propaganda of “Brand Israel”. In this sub-plot, the viewer enters the upside-down, Orwellian world of hasbara.
In the real world, all the punitive cases that I know of brought by university administrators in connection with BDS are directed against Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and not against the pro-Israel campus group Hillel.
Incredibly, Robert and Michelle chose to dramatize the struggle to advocate for Palestine on U.S. university campuses by telling an absurd story about a student body on a Chicago college campus that votes to defund the student newspaper because a student (the parents of the character are very rich clients and personal friends of a partner in the law firm) wrote an impassioned article against divestment from Israel. The headline the viewer glimpses says, “Divestment smacks of anti-Semitism”.
The administrators enforce the student body vote to defund the student newspaper, because the article “called administrators mindless lemmings about to fall off the cliff of fascism.” This is language usually labeled “extreme” when Israel itself is accused of fascism.
The student defends herself by saying: “Yeah because you [the university] are thinking of divesting from Israel and requiring stamps on all products made by Israel in the West Bank. I wrote an editorial about it; that’s all — I understand if you don’t like it, but closing down the paper is against free speech.”
“It is hard to argue that a threat to defund the newspaper is anything but persecution,” adds the lawyer.
On the other side of this case, we hear just one line from a student with no mention whatsoever of the identity of the specific “oppressed population” involved in this debate: “The fact that the school is willing to stand up for oppressed populations — that’s why a lot of us chose to come here.”
In a cynical manipulation of what actually happens regarding BDS on campuses nationwide, the scriptwriters deftly turn a pro-Israel student into a victim being penalized for her pro-Israel article in an atmosphere where pro-Israel students hardly ever find themselves in such an adversarial position with the administration for their speech, but pro-Palestinian students do, their advocacy for Palestinian human rights routinely suppressed.
Most recently, for example, students at Fordham University filed a lawsuit against the school over its refusal to grant club status to SJP. And there is a wave of unconstitutional bills sweeping the country today aimed at outlawing and punishing advocacy for Palestinian rights.
But worse, in this episode the lawyer tells the student that she has the right to take her grievances to arbitration. It turns out that the legal argument that saves the day is not about free speech after all, which would have been a win for both sides, but rather about the collective wisdom of student bodies that autonomously make bad decisions — subtext: like decisions about BDS.
In the arbitration scene we observe a calm, rational young woman arguing with the help of a smart and expensive lawyer that the autonomy exercised by the student body that voted to defund the newspaper, though valuable, must be checked by the administration in this particular instance: “The final responsibility rests with the adult faculty, not the students… the administration is still in charge, and since we consider them state actors, they can’t censor the newspaper,” says the arbitrator.
The tortured attempt on the part of the scriptwriters of The Good Wife to align BDS with anti-Semitism and imply, through the use of an egregiously absurd example, that resolutions (such as BDS divestment decisions) made by the student body of a university must be overturned by “responsible adult faculty” is nothing short of shameful.
The Good Wife is one long propaganda outlet for Israel.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.