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‘The Good Wife’ takes on Israel/Palestine, Islamophobia and the Israel lobby

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The CBS hit “The Good Wife” premiered its third season Sunday night with a story largely about Palestinian/Israeli politics, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bigotry, and the Israel lobby. I say largely because there is an unexpected (and largely anti-climactic) twist at the end. Still, the content of the show was pretty groundbreaking, I thought, for network television. You can watch the episode here.

This isn’t the first time the show has chosen to write a story based around the Israeli Palestinian issue. Last year, the network aired an episode that made mention of the flotilla incident, BDS, the Israel lobby and even apartheid in Israel. Sunday’s episode began with a video showing the banner “Rid our Campus of Hamas” superimposed over violent Palestinian images. The video was sent to campus inboxes, and the Jewish fraternity is thought to be responsible. This prompts an interfaith rally, during which a fist fight breaks out between a dozen Palestinian and Jewish youths.

There’s more: we learn that a Jewish PoliSci major was murdered 10 minutes earlier on the other end of campus. Muslim students are being questioned.

Jamal Masood, a Muslim Palestinian scholarship student, is subsequently charged by the State’s Attorney General for assault. But it’s not a simple misdemeanor battery they’re after. The State’s AG, plans on running for governor, and wants to shore up his Jewish campaign contributions. He decides to charge him with a hate crime-which carries a 7 year penalty.

But Masood says he wasn’t even at the rally.

Enter Wasim al-Said, a Muslim commodities trader and a benefactor who intervenes on the Jamal’s behalf. He also happens to have $10 million in charitable assets to spend on an anti-Muslim bigotry campaign and wants to hire the defense firm’s Jewish lobbyist and crisis manager, Eli Gold.

Al-Said is painted as a somewhat creepy opportunistic guy with ulterior motives. Eli even makes fun of his name “WA-seem?” he says. What kind of name is that?

Michael Kahane (hmmm), head of the “Jewish League Fund” (double hmmm…) comes to see Eli. He is fuming. He rants about anti-Israel bias in the media and says the only news source you can trust is Israel National News (also known as Arutz 7, the settler news organization).  How can Eli accept Al-Saeed as a client?

“Don’t act like this is nothing, Eli. You’re running a pro-Palestinian campaign” says Kahane.

“It’s an anti-Muslim bigotry campaign” Gold replies slyly. Then:

“You are a Jew. We are both Jews” says Kahane.

“Oh come on Michael, what is this? Ultimate Frisbee? We only win by making them lose?”

“This is a PR war, and they are winning.”

“And I’m a traitor?”

“Yes”

“4000 years and we are always our own worst enemy.”

The State’s DA is told (by his estranged “good” wife, Alicia, who is the Defense Attorney) that there has to be a better way to firm up his campaign contributions.

Alicia needs to buy her team some time. So she asks for the judge to recues himself on grounds that he has shown bias against their client, to which he furiously responds that his Jewish background is not relevant in this case.

“Your honor you have given money to the Outlook for Israel, an organization that supports the settlements in Israel” she says, to the Judge’s shock.

The Judge takes time to think about it (its later revealed this was a tactic to make sure there are no Jewish judges appointed, sine the next day is Rosh hashana).

Later, a Jewish professor, a sort of strange fictional amalgamation of Ward Churchill, Edward Peck, and Norman Finkelstein, is put on the stand to answer questions about a lecture he gives on the anniversary of 9/11 about chickens coming home to roost and the Zionist regime and Israel, a lecture that the Muslim student in question, Jamal, supposedly approved of. He is author of the (fictional) book “Zionist occupation, the need for re-alignment and new thinking”.

But it turns out Jamal wasn’t at the talk-his roommate signed for him so he wouldn’t be marked as absent. So the fingers point to the second roommate, Amir. Jamal has two other roommates: Amir, and Tariq.

“Amir is the Palestinian hardliner” says the defense. So it has to be him. “Tariq couldn’t care less”.

In reality, Amir is simply an observant (also Palestinian) Muslim who prays five times a day. His alibi: he was praying ‘asr in his living room at that time as he does each day. Still, they think it’s him. He is Palestinian. He looks like a fundie, what with his thobe and kufi and dark skin.

Next, the creator of an MMOG (massive multi-player online game) called battle ME: Gaza Strip, in which suicide-belt clad Palestinians go blow things like Israeli schools up, is brought in to testify about the violent online persona of the new suspect Amir (note: the characters in the video game are speaking Iraqi dialect, which I thought was humorous). The judge takes an added interest in the weapons-the range of fire, the weapons: “cool” he says, which raises a red flag. As it turns out half the prosecutions’ office plays the same game, donned the same suicide belt, which is a “power up”. So did the murdered Jewish student, Simon Greenburg.

Back to the lobbying angle. “WA-seem” decides not to go with Eli after all. He’s mad about the handling of the case . Eli says he already cashed his check. Cue violent, evil Muslim: “Did he hear the one about the Arab and the Jew?” asks a pissed off Waseem. “No but I’m sure it’s very funny” replies a smug Eli. “They walk into a bar, and then they kill each other”.

In the end, Eli decides to stay true to this Jewish brother (but then, he’s already cashed the $10 million) and takes on the “Jewish League Fund’s” campaign. “Arab spring…kind of like Irish spring, but with Arabs” he jokes . haha. Very funny.

Finally, the murder is resolved. It turns out that it was the third roommate, the seemingly benevolent disinterested Tariq, who was playing the Battle ME: Gaza Strip game, using “hardliner” Amir’s login information. And subsequently murdered Simon.

The defense doesn’t get it: “Amir had a motive…politics; fanaticism…Tariq isn’t political or religious”.

Just, as it turns out, gay and scorned. That’s right. Tariq was Simon Greenburg’s gay lover. Simon betrayed him. So it was, we learn in a very convoluted way, a crime of passion, not politics.

The show is supposed to make us think about how we naturally conclude that when something bad happens to a Jew, it has to be about Middle Eastern politics. Or about anti-Semitism. Or that it’s a Muslim who did it. Or how by going after Muslims in defense of Jews can you can score some serious campaign contributions.

I thought what was more interesting was for network television to take up (and implicitly critique) issues like a public official’s financial contributions to settlements, the role and influence of the Israel lobby.

A change in discourse, even if fictional.

Laila El-Haddad blogs at Gazamom.com and is the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between.

Laila El-Haddad

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9 Responses

  1. MHughes976 on September 27, 2011, 2:04 pm

    I must try to catch up with this when Rupert Murdoch sends it to the UK – mind you, now I know the ending it won’t have me on the edge of my seat.

  2. Scott on September 27, 2011, 2:04 pm

    Yes, quite a change. Not sure if better or worse than the Larry David episode I didn’t see–maybe slightly better. But important. Thanks for taking the time to lay it all out.

  3. Woody Tanaka on September 27, 2011, 3:51 pm

    It would be nice if there was a show on television about Palestinians that wasn’t really about how Jews view Palestinians.

  4. annie on September 27, 2011, 8:07 pm

    thanks for the review. coincidentally i watched it online this morning.

    interesting you didn’t mention the one thing that disappointed me, a palestinian was the killer.

    i liked her take down of the judge. perhaps now that eli has taken on the JLF’s account we’ll be seeing more of the pissy kahane in upcoming episodes.

    also, i wouldn’t have described al-said as a ‘creepy opportunistic guy with ulterior motives.’

    • gazamom on September 28, 2011, 12:09 pm

      HI Annie-I tend to agree with the comment below. I think the writers wanted us to think the fact that he happened to Palestinian was irrelevant. Also I don’t think Al-Said was creepy or opportunistic, but I think they wanted to leave us with this impression (or least with the impression by having his last words be “they kill each other” (said in a very serious, non-funny way). It was in poor taste, I thought-tje writers resorted to stereotypes after initially painting him as a proactive Muslim figure interested in changing the perception of the public vis a vis Islam. Like-if the “civilized” Muslim doesn’t get his way, he’ll return to his violent ways.

      • annie on September 29, 2011, 1:25 pm

        Like-if the “civilized” Muslim doesn’t get his way, he’ll return to his violent ways.

        ‘they’d kill eachother’ is non specific. i didn’t interpret it to mean what you suggested. also, not the staging of the exit was the same as the zionist saying that stuff to eli about the 4000 years..(blame). in the context of the two men (the zionist lobbiest and the muslim exiting) one was more blaming of eli while the other comment seemed to say ‘why do we keep being enemies’?

  5. Chaos4700 on September 27, 2011, 9:04 pm

    Considering the plot twist was, “the gay did it” instead of the “the Muslim did it,” I’m unimpressed. (Or was it both? Though it sounds like they went out of their way to portray Tariq is secular.)

    In the end, Eli decides to stay true to this Jewish brother (but then, he’s already cashed the $10 million) and takes on the “Jewish League Fund’s” campaign. “Arab spring…kind of like Irish spring, but with Arabs” he jokes . haha. Very funny.

    Yeeeeeaaaah…. I think the earlier line about Jews being their own worst enemy was unintentionally more poignant than the writer may have intended.

    All in all, this sounds like typical American television, where everyone is pretty much a walking caricature of the social group they tokenize. We are in the era of schlock writing.

  6. annie on September 27, 2011, 10:14 pm

    i think al-Said wanted to hire the firm because the attorney general’s wife works there and eli gold is also the attorney general’s campaign manager. i liked his character. i watched it again and didn’t find him creepy in the least. i thought spending 10 million dollars on an anti islamophobia campaign was a noble investment.

  7. Lydda Four Eight on September 29, 2011, 9:46 pm

    “Jamal Masood, a Muslim Palestinian scholarship student, is subsequently charged by the State’s Attorney General for assault. But it’s not a simple misdemeanor battery they’re after. The State’s AG, plans on running for governor, and wants to shore up his Jewish campaign contributions. He decides to charge him with a hate crime-which carries a 7 year penalty.”

    The political motivations/ aspirations are straight out of the Irvine 11 case, but in the Irvine 11 case it was the prosecuting DA.

    Interesting timing as well.

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