Wednesday, February 15, 2012

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 hasbara trip 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!, which 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 the hasbara 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 infrastructure, economic 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.
Just today, Alresalah reports that the vast majority of hospital patients in Gaza are at great risk due to the Israeli-imposed collective punishment of deliberate, extended electrical blackouts throughout the territory. Dr. Ashraf Al-qidra, director of Public Relations and Information Department at Gaza's Health Ministry stated, "More than 80% of patients in the Gaza Strip are threatened to terrible health status and possibility of death due to lack of electricity." He added that at least "404 of dialysis patients are at risk of death for their treatment is totally based on electricity" and that 100 children in intensive care are also at lethally threatened by the outages.

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 influence Jeopardy!'s conception of history. Unfortunately, when it comes to Palestine, it seems international law, collective punishment and simple facts are triple-stumpers for Trebek.



Anonymous said...

Iran is massacring it's own people since 1979. Syria is slaughtering 7000 people and the best your idiot ass can come up with is a Jeopardy clue?

Get a grip. Stop giving a shit about Israel. You're not Palestinian. I know yo want to be, but you're Iranian.

Free Iran. Free Syria!

Nima Shirazi said...

I'd like to extend my deepest gratitude to Syrian-Iranian-definitely-not-Israeli commenter "Anonymous" for pointing out that human beings are - apparently - only allowed to give a shit about their own kind.


John Dworkin said...

Hey Nima Shirazi,

Your response to "Anonymous" is hilarious.

But more importantly, nice piece on Jeopardy!. I watched Jeopardy! last night (maybe it was the night before last?) and there was another similar clue/Israel advertisement. The video answer was given from the Dead Sea and went something like: "This mineral, found here in the dead sea, is thought to have special skin healing properties," or something like that. In my mind I thought to myself, "This is basically an advertisement for Ahava Dead Sea products," which I'm sure you're aware of. But wait - later in the program before a commercial break, they cut to Trebek walking along the Dead Sea shore speaking about the need for a "pipeline" to save the disappearing Dead Sea. I don't know exactly what that's about, but it raised my eyebrows. Maybe as a way to get some big pipeline business in that area as another "fact on the ground" that Israel can simply throw their hands up at and say, "Well, too late now," while the area booms w/ hand picked no bid contracts and new Jewish only settlements. Call me paranoid...

Thank you for your work Nima. I'll be checking in regularly. Peace,

John Dworkin

Anonymous said...

Seriously? This is the best you can come up with? You have all the things to write about and your sorry ass comes up with a Jeopardy topic about how their "clues" are misrepresented? Give me a break! How old are you? Where are your posts about the THOUSANDS slaughtered in Iran in the 80's under Ayatollah Sadegh Khalhali. Do you even know who that is? What about the 88' executions? What about the 90's chain murders? Do you even know what I'm talking about? My God...

Nima Shirazi said...

How old am I? Well, I suppose my avid Jeopardy! watching reveals my youth and immaturity since we all know that show is virtual catnip for juvenile whippersnappers.

I wonder "Anonymous," are you the same "Anonymous" who posted the first inane comment on this post or are you all part of a tag-team trolling outfit?

Funny you bring up Khalkhali, actually. I've always considered Alex Trebek to be the murderous "hanging judge" of ABC's pre-primetime early evening line-up. (I suppose that would make Pat Sajak the Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur of post-Jeopardy! pre-primetime programming.)

Anyhoo, thanks again for the topic suggestions. I'm glad to know you're working your way through grad school with such dignity.


Anonymous said...

I'm not Israeli. I'm Iranian. But you probably don't even believe me. You don't care about Syria/Iran because it doesn't fit your agenda. Iran could slaughter hundreds in the streets and you wouldn't even care because according to your little mind, being 'anti-imperialist' is better than being 'anti-fundamentalist Islam'.

So sure, I'll start believing your garbage once you leave your little cozy apartment in New York and move to Iran and dare to speak out against the government there. Then I could pay a visit to you in Ward 209 of Evin Prison and talk some Jeopardy and see where that goes.

Nima Shirazi said...

Who asked you to "believe" anything, let alone my "garbage"? That you have yet to question or correct a single thing I've ever written reveals the inanity and weird obsession of your commentary.

Your frustration lies in the sad fact that you just want me to write in a certain way about things you want to read about in a way that conforms to your worldview.

With such a tedious, trolling fixation on this particular, brief post about a Jeopardy! episode, I can't imagine how you'll react to my upcoming eighteen-part exposé on the Phalangist affiliations and apartheid advocacy of the vast majority of Whammies on the original version of Press Your Luck (1983-1986). Honestly, I fear for your health and sanity upon its publication.

I'd wish you all the best in your future trolling endeavors if I hadn't fallen asleep for a second due to sheer boredom in the middle of typing this sentence.


P.S. I'm glad to hear they have such relaxed visiting hours at Evin.

P.P.S. I actually have a large, drafty apartment.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're taking my criticisms so lightly.

Just have some perspective. I know you're one of those leftists (as I am), but that doesn't mean you ignore the realities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You don't do complete 180's and start justifying the brutal repression. Please ask around.

Sabina & Joe Richter said...

Omg I just fell in love with you. Great response.