As a fan of all things trivial, I make an effort to tune into the nightly TV game show “Jeopardy!” This week, I was intrigued to see that one of the Double Jeopardy categories was “A Journey Through Israel” (scroll down to “Double Jeopardy” and see the last column on the right). Alex Trebek and his Clue Crew entourage frequently generate video clues — remember that the questions and answers are reversed on “Jeopardy!,” so prompts are called clues and responses are in the form of questions — from famous historical or tourist destinations around the world.
But Israel is not a typical tourist destination. The history is ongoing. Almost any site that the show might visit is suffused with current political meaning — something that the producers obviously recognized, since they had Trebek introduce the category as “reliving history thousands of years old or just a few decades old.”
The category smacked of the heavy hand of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism — which Trebek acknowledged had helped make their visit special “in so many ways,” without specifying exactly what those ways were. Of course, several clues played up Jewish and Christian history: Jesus and the Sea of Galilee, Oskar Schindler’s grave in Mount Zion Cemetery, and the (creepy?) ritual of Israeli soldiers visiting Masada to declare that it will not fall again.
Others touched more directly on relevant political issues. The first clue, for example, referred to the “Wailing Wall” becoming the “Western Wall” in Jewish circles after the 1967 War and the “reunification of Jerusalem.” (Thanks to fans of the show, you can read an archive of the clues and correct responses for yourself, along with Trebek’s asides and incorrect responses.)
No country in the world recognizes Israel’s claim over East Jerusalem, except Israel. Since June 1967, when Israel captured that part of the city, Israeli governments have tried to assert that Jerusalem is the state’s “eternal and undivided capital,” yet the international community has rejected that claim. Under international law, East Jerusalem is occupied territory. Talk about “reunification” serves to support Israel’s illegal annexation of the land.
The last clue about the Dead Sea seemed innocuous enough, but again, much of the Dead Sea is not legally part of Israel. B’Tselem notes that Palestinians in private vehicles have not been able to travel on Route 90, the main road along the West Bank portion of the Dead Sea, without special Israeli permits since 2000. Palestinians are not allowed to travel to the Dead Sea itself. Israeli policies of occupation and settlement, B’Tselem argues, have amounted to creeping annexation of the entire Jordan River Valley.
Seeing Alex Trebek floating in the Dead Sea, without giving any context other than the category title, “A Journey Through Israel,” leaves the viewer with the impression that there are no Palestinians, no Jewish settlers, no political conflict, and no occupation.
The two-week trip that the Clue Crew spent in Israel is apparently part of what will be an ongoing series of video clues from Israel. “Jeopardy!” has now visited more than 30 countries. It is not clear who paid for their travel and accommodations — except for one short commercial sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism that was based around the supposed eagerness with which Israelis say “Shalom!” to visitors. There seems to have been no special reason that Israel was chosen, though the Forward reports that several Jewish staff members found the visit personally significant.
It is perhaps too much to ask a TV game show to mention that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territory. Someone with the show, however, should have suspected that they might be used for some subtle Israeli image-washing, à la the Toronto Film Festival, and paid more attention to how things were framed and presented.
One wonders whether any Arab, Muslim, or otherwise resourceful staff members — these people are supposed to know how to factcheck the most minute of details — might have convinced the rest of the staff to introduce a little balance by changing the title of the category to, say, “A Journey Through Israel/Palestine,” and by visiting sites under the Palestinian Authority’s ostensible jurisdiction in Bethlehem or Jericho.
So, Alex, will the balance be restored in upcoming episodes?