Wonder Woman is Israeli: The soft power of Gal Gadot

Gal Gadot’s newfound celebrity is possibly the best international publicity for the Jewish state in years, and is a perfect example of soft power.

Gal Gadot stars as the fierce Amazon warrior princess out to save the world in ‘Wonder Woman' (photo credit: COURTESY OF SHALMOR PR)
Gal Gadot stars as the fierce Amazon warrior princess out to save the world in ‘Wonder Woman'
(photo credit: COURTESY OF SHALMOR PR)
The Google search “Benjamin Netanyahu” yields 16,100,000 results – but “Gal Gadot” yields 20,700,000. When a country’s newest leading lady produces three million more Google hits than the prime minister, an interesting question arises: at this moment in time, which Israeli means more to the world at large, and what are the benefits of Gal Gadot’s international exposure?
Since Wonder Woman was released on May 15, it has grossed $747 million worldwide, making it one of 2017’s biggest hits. Subsequently, as the film’s lead, Gadot has been a smash hit as well. While already reasonably well known for her roles in the Fast & Furious franchise and Keeping Up with the Joneses, Wonder Woman has propelled Gadot to A-list fame.
It’s no secret that Israel has an image problem. Gadot’s newfound celebrity is possibly the best international publicity for the Jewish state in years, and is a perfect example of soft power. A term coined by Harvard University’s Joseph Nye, soft power is “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” It is the capacity of a state to shape others’ long-term attitudes and preferences in its favor: essentially, a diplomatic reputation adjustment.
Soft power can sit entirely separately from politics, and often takes the form of cultural exports. An Israeli as Hollywood’s new darling is pure gold in the currency of soft power. Right now, Gadot has the capability to give Israel a better name in a world that ignores its many nuances, preferring to focus only on its failures.
With over eight million Instagram followers and counting, Gadot has gained legions of fans from all over the globe, who are fascinated not just by her acting talent but by every detail of the charismatic star’s existence. Gadot’s nationality is clearly an integral part of her life, which she expresses through social media: she sometimes writes in Hebrew, and came under fire for a pro-IDF Facebook post she made during the Israel-Gaza war in 2014.
Though Gadot has certainly faced antagonism for being Israeli – and in particular, for serving her mandatory two-year term in the IDF, as a combat trainer – it has been minimal in comparison to the exponential explosion of her fanbase. She is overwhelmingly positively received, served well by her good looks and mischievous charm. In appearances on talk shows like Jimmy Fallon and The Ellen Show, Gadot’s easy banter with American household names makes her relatable to a Western audience, humanizing the widespread trope of the brutal, selfish Israeli soldier.
“In Israel, people have chutzpah,” Gadot told Marie Claire for her June cover story. “People take issue with it, but I’d rather have that than play games.” The way Gadot associates her direct attitude with her home country conveys a subtle message: Israeli women are fierce and unapologetic, much like the character of Wonder Woman herself.
In a world that has begun to believe that Zionism and feminism must somehow be mutually exclusive, Gadot is a living contradiction, repeatedly aligning herself with the feminist and sex-positive cause. The association of an Israeli actress with a progressive agenda helps those who unfairly condemn all citizens of a nation for the actions of their government see that Israelis are complex and open-minded humans with a wide range of opinions, just like in any other country.
On The Late Late Show With James Corden, Gadot discussed meeting Donald Trump when she competed as Miss Israel in the 2004 Miss Universe pageant. “Show me on a doll where he touched you,” joked Corden, in reference to the many allegations of sexual harassment against Trump.
“So, I’m Israeli, we go to the military. We know Krav Maga and everything,” said Gadot, assuring the audience that Trump is no match for Wonder Woman. Yet again, Gadot links her strength to her Israeli heritage, proving that Zionists can be feminists indeed.
The character of Wonder Woman was named the new United Nations Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls in October 2016, but the campaign was ended two months later due to backlash over the character’s construed sexuality based on her iconic outfit. In a December 2016 TIME feature, Gadot questioned the UN’s decision.
“When people argue that Wonder Woman should ‘cover up,’ I don’t quite get it,” she said. “They say, ‘If she’s smart and strong, she can’t also be sexy.’ That’s not fair. Why can’t she be all of the above?”
In her life and work, Gadot repeatedly emphasizes that women are multifaceted, and cannot fit squarely into boxes. She is a mother to two young daughters, Alma and Maya, and often publicly discusses the joys and pains of motherhood, on social media and beyond. While a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Gadot summed up her stance on motherhood in a simple statement: “Every mother is a Wonder Woman.”
In her vocal support for women living their lives as powerful individuals however they choose, Gadot refuses to accept the reductive marginalization that affects women across the globe. The importance of an Israeli feminist icon cannot be understated.
Even just the visibility of an Israeli actress in the mainstream news gains the country recognition beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Already, the world is getting excited for Wonder Woman 2, which will be set during the Cold War. The sequel does not even have a release date yet, but fans cannot wait to see Gadot portray Diana Prince once again. Because Wonder Woman is not just one movie, but an entire franchise, Gadot isn’t leaving the big screen any time soon. As time passes, she will only become more intertwined with the popular character, further increasing the soft power benefits for her country of origin.
Because of Wonder Woman, when people think of Israel, they will not simply recall the constant political barrage that dominates the news cycle. They will also think of Gal Gadot, and perhaps seek to learn more about the endless variety and complexity that characterizes the nation of Israel.