Troubled Jeopardy!: Travels through Trebekistan


Back in January, a $1000 first-round clue on Jeopardy!, falling under the category “Judea,” asked, “Galilee, Samaria & Judea in the south were the 3 traditional divisions of this ancient area with a still-current name.” The correct question was “What is Palestine?” 

None of the three contestants even buzzed in to respond. (Incidentally, this was a question a number of GOP presidential candidates had been answering incorrectly themselves at the time.)

Shortly thereafter, I posted this in the comments section of Mondoweiss:

The Jeopardy! answer/question about Palestine is especially intriguing and satisfying considering that, over the past few seasons, Alex Trebek and company have often featured clues (sometimes even whole categories with on-site video of Alex and team at Yad Vashem, floating in the Dead Sea, the Western Wall, and Masada) devoted to Israel and its current stewardship of Biblical sites and expropriation of history…usually in the form of answers and questions that wholly ignores the Occupation and existence of both Palestine and Palestinians.

Jeopardy!’s apparent love affair with Israel seems to have begun in earnest back in 2009, after Trebek and his Clue Crew were treated to a [three]-week hasbaratrip to Israel by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. It is clear this initiative was launched to correspond with the “Brand Israel” PR campaign.

Commercial advertisements insisting “There’s a little bit of Israel in all of us. Come find the Israel in you” (paid for by the Tourism Ministry, of course) are still often aired during episodes of Jeopardy!.

In late November 2009, some days after Jeopardy! featured a category entitled “A Journey Through Israel”, which Alex described as “reliving history thousands of years old or just a few decades old,” Carlton Cobb wrote an excellent and informative post for Fair Policy, Fair Discussion, the official blog for the Council for the National Interest Foundation. It’s well worth the read.

Good to see Jeopardy! is finally moving away from heavy-handed hasbara.

It appears I was too optimistic. The College Championship (first semifinal game) episode of Jeopardy! aired on February 8, 2012 included a Double Jeopardy! category entitled “The 21st Century.” The $1200 clue stated:

“In 2005 Israel gave up control of this coastal territory”

The response of “What is the Gaza Strip?” was the desired question.

But the Jeopardy! writers, widely respected as masters of fact and trivia, are wrong. Since occupying the territory in 1967, Israel has never relinquished control of Gaza. Despite thehasbara talking point that Israel “unilaterally disengaged” from Gaza in 2005, dismantling its settlements and forcibly removing its 9,000 colonists, Israel maintains its effective control over the borders, economy, and Palestinians of the territory in a way that can only be described as continued occupation and collective punishment. 

As Israeli historian Avi Shlaim points out, after the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli colonists and military personnel, “Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.”

The official 2005 Israeli “Disengagement Plan” even states clearly, “The State of Israel will guard and monitor the external land perimeter of the Gaza Strip, will continue to maintain exclusive authority in Gaza air space, and will continue to exercise security activity in the sea off the coast of the Gaza Strip.” It further declares, “The Gaza Strip shall be demilitarized and shall be devoid of weaponry, the presence of which does not accord with the Israeli-Palestinian agreements.”

Beyond this, as the Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Programme points out, “Israel controls a buffer zone in the northern part of the Gaza Strip and does not allow Palestinian movement within 150 meters (de facto 500 meters) from the northern and eastern parts of the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip” and “retains the ability to effectively conduct land incursions, as stated in the Disengagement plan itself.”

Even the CIA admits, “Israel still controls maritime, airspace, and other access to the Gaza Strip; Israel also enforces a restricted zone along the border inside Gaza.”

But Israel doesn’t just control the gates of the Gaza prison, it also controls the internal infrastructureeconomic freedom and freedom of movement of its inhabitants. The Disengagement Plan itself states:

In general, Israel will continue, for full price, to supply electricity, water, gas and petrol to the Palestinians, in accordance with current arrangements…

In general, the economic arrangements currently in operation between the State of Israel and the Palestinians shall remain in force. These arrangements include, inter alia:

One. The entry and exit of goods between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the State of Israel and abroad.

Two. The monetary regime.

Three. Tax and customs envelope arrangements.

Four. Postal and telecommunications arrangements.

Five. The entry of workers into Israel, in accordance with the existing criteria.

That fact that Israel still controls Gaza is so obvious, it is indeed curious that the fact-checkers on the Jeopardy! research team would allow this type of propaganda on its program.

Apparently, a three-week Israeli government-sponsored trip goes a long way to influenceJeopardy!’s conception of history. Unfortunately, when it comes to Palestine, it seems international law, collective punishment and simple facts are triple-stumpers for Trebek.

This post originally appeared on Nima Shirazi’s blog Wide Asleep in America.

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog,, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.
Posted in Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Media, US Politics

{ 2 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. The Jeopardians have only themselves to blame. “Gave up control” is a very definite term. Had they phrased it “In 2005 Israel relocated settlers from this coastal territory”, all would be fine.

  2. Walid says:

    Couldn’t figure out if Nima’s message was about Trebek’s freebie trip to Israel or if it’s about the word games Israel played with its Gaza bogus pullout. Either way, couldn’t help feeling annoyed at reading about the evil ones having the PR smarts and the necessary cash to ferry Trebek and his crew on a PR junket while during the same period, Gulf Arabs are ordering $123 billion-worth of military hardware from the US and not giving a thought to investing a small amount into a similar freebie trip for Trebek or others like him to benefit the Palestinian cause.

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