When 'The Good Wife' Meets Benjamin Netanyahu

Should the prime minister worry when a minor character in a popular American TV series takes a dim view of him?

A frustrated Eli Gold, played by Alan Cumming, in 'The Good Wife.'
Paul Sarkis

Watching the news on TV is an extreme spectator’s sport. You sit on your couch knowing that out there, from the deep recess of “reality” behind the screen, there is a train of bad news rushing at you. It’s not only the fact that there is bound to be bad news. What other kind of news can it be, if at the outset there is a line on the screen announcing that something is “breaking”?

Part of the problem is that nine times out of ten (OK, I know I’m a party-pooper, seven out of ten) the tidings – bad, remember that – are about you, about us. No, not you or me personally, but us as part of the fold grazing on the pastures of this soil. You sense that the very shepherd who is supposed to oversee your (good?) fortune is leading us all astray, claiming that if he is not there, we will all be slaughtered. What’s worse, most everyone follows him meekly.

If only it could have ended there. But the queasiness in your stomach gets even queasier when you also hear news reports about your shepherd’s (our own PM’s, for those who were misled by the imagery) policies, which mean implicitly yours and mine, being skewered by world leaders and various newscasts all over the world.

Why, oh, why – you moan – everything happens to us, and why doesn’t the world leave us alone? Aren’t bad things being done by other leaders to other peoples? Why is it always bad and always about us?

The perspective changes each time you get up from your couch, and transport yourself, travelling coach, of course (I love travelling in first class, but unfortunately cannot afford that touch of class) to a hotel room anywhere in the world. The moment you turn on the TV set, you very soon see that nobody cares that much about you. Yes, Israel, which is your land (and my land) makes it to the line-up of the local newscast, say, in Iceland, but is far from being the main issue. To the point that once in a while you wonder: Why doesn’t the world care more about us?

So, as you see, nothing is more misleading when trying to assess your own value than watching the news, which is bound to prioritize issues. One can better gauge one’s own collective worth in the popular mind through the fictional world of TV series.

Israel pops up there rather often, especially in political dramas or cloak-and-dagger international action series, but mostly in a sort of matter-of-fact way. It serves as a background in series like “The Honourable Woman.” In one of the episodes of “Spooks,” a bunch of Arab terrorists who have taken over an embassy in London and are holding hostages turn out to be (actually, this is a suspicion, never admitted to on screen) Israeli agents creating a provocation for devious reasons. Israeli chiefs of security services turn up in fictional, political, spy and action dramas, and there was – possibly still is, as the character was “written out” but not killed – agent Ziva David, on “NCIS.” Her father was the head of the Israeli Mossad and got killed in one of the episodes. Oddly enough “Tyrant,” set in the Middle East, created by an Israeli and starring Israeli actors, never even mentions the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and there is barely a hint of it in “Scandal” or – up to now, at least – in “Madam Secretary.”

Marissa’s advice

These series do not take sides. They are neither pro nor con as far as Israel and its policies are concerned. They sort of accept the fact that the conflict exists and is part of what is happening in their fictional world. But last week I stumbled on a reflection of Israel in the distorting mirror of a TV series in a manner much more particular and involved. A character in a series not overtly involved in international politics or spy-action (the fifth episode of the seventh season of “The Good Wife,” entitled “Payback”) voicing a clear and unequivocal opinion about the Israeli PM’s policies. The series is run in Israel by Yes, concurrently with its American airing.

Admittedly, it is a minor character: Marissa, the 20-something daughter of Eli Gold, the Jewish (not religious or practicing, but he takes Saturdays off) campaign manager and later chief of staff of Gov. Peter Florrick, the not-so-good husband of “The Good Wife,” Alicia Florrick. In the episode I’m talking about (broadcast on Nov. 1 in the U.S.), Eli had just left the governor’s inner sanctum in a huff, since Peter brought in another campaign manager for a prospective VP run. He stays on in the vicinity of the Florrick family, volunteering to be chief of staff for Alicia in Peter’s future political career.

In the “Payback” episode, Marissa, Eli’s daughter (played by Sarah Steele) who shares an office with him, watches her father pining to be once again at the helm of his friend’s (and evidently master’s) campaign. (Eli, played by Alan Cumming, is said to be based on Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff of Barack Obama.) Marissa is adamant that her father should move on. She spent some time in Israel and did military service, so tells Eli that the father of a friend from her IDF days plans to run against Netanyahu in Israel’s forthcoming elections. She suggests that her dad accept the offer she had solicited for him to serve as his campaign manager. “This is your chance to finally oust Netanyahu,” she tells him.

When I heard that line I thought to myself that if I were (God forbid) Benjamin Netanyahu, I would be mightily worried. This is not some biased politician or commentator, who is – most probably – a closet or outright anti-Semite, or someone with an ax to grind. It is a run-of-the-mill minor character in a popular American TV series who is utterly convinced that ousting Netanyahu is the right and proper thing to do.

Let me put your mind at rest: This is not a spoiler, as in the grand scheme of “The Good Wife,” the issue is utterly immaterial. Eli Gold mulls the matter over, and decides to give up the chance to leave a mark on Israeli politics. Even when fired by Alicia (as per Marissa’s pleading, as she believes her father should move on) Gold decides to stay put and bide his time. And Netanyahu was saved by the bell yet again.