4/29/2008

Defending Bat-El's Right to Enter the Contest

A number of commenters have already disagreed with my take on the Bible Contest controversy, so I decided to respond in a separate post.

First off, I'd feel the same way if it was a state-sponsored Gemara contest. This is a government-funded event. It cannot and should not distinguish between citizens (and this girl IS a citizen) on the basis of religion, race, gender, etc. It would be different if it were a matter of institutional recognition, not the eligibility of an INDIVIDUAL citizen (who happens to be Christian) to enter a state-run contest.

I do not think that there is even a 'hava amina' that this grants legitimacy to a certain group, any more than if a Messianic Jew were a contestant on 'Survivor' or 'A Star is Born' (Israel's 'American Idol' - funny double entendre, though). The fact that this is a state-funded event makes the organizers' responsibility to allow entry to any qualified individual greater, not lesser.

To make myself perfectly clear: there is a very big difference between facilitating the establishment of a church and extending equal rights to its members.

It is possible to argue that:
a) this event is intended for Jews specifically;
b) this girl, though legally Jewish, cuts herself off from the Jewish community by professing Christianity; and
c) by allowing her to enter the competition as a Jew, one appears to be including her faith community in the Jewish community.

My main issue is with a). I am against the idea that citizens of Israel would be discriminated against, in a state-sponsored, national event, on the basis of religion. The Jewish character of the state can pertain to national symbols and culture - the sponsorship of an International Bible Quiz (and not a Koran or New Testament Quiz, and not even a spelling bee) is an excellent manifestation of just that culture. The Jewish character of the state must never be invoked to deny rights and priveleges to its citizens.

In this case, since a) might actually be upheld by the letter of the law, which establishes the event as a competition amongst Jewish youths, I am in favor of upholding the principles I set forth above via recourse to the fact that this girl, technically and legally, is Jewish (as noted in b)). This might violate the spirit of the law which declares that this state-funded competition is for Jews only, but that law itself violates the spirit of Israel as a democratic state with equal rights extended to all citizens (which, in this case, need in no way undermine its Jewish character).
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