Last week saw controversy in Israel over the decision of the Shalva Band—made up primarily of young people with disabilities—not to compete in this year’s Eurovision song contest, which ironically will be held in the Jewish state. The reason: the band’s religious members want to avoid performing on the Sabbath. Shlomo Brody comments on the fact that Jerusalem failed to obtain the necessary accommodations in advance from the competition’s organizers:
Israeli politics are dominated frequently by talk of alleged religious coercion. In the past year alone, for example, the ruling coalition nearly collapsed over disputes about open mini-markets and construction work on bridges over Shabbat. While some coalition members argued that shops should stay closed and construction should be halted in order to preserve the status quo, others lamented that such actions violated civil rights by imposing religious restrictions on shop owners and laborers.
Yet with all of this talk of freedom from religion, freedom of religion sometimes gets overlooked. Take, for example, the case of professional Israeli soccer players. In March, the government decided to extend permits to allow Israeli professional soccer matches to take place on Shabbat, in consonance with long-standing practice. This, however, was in spite of the fact that over 300 players from the top-tier leagues requested to find alternatives to Shabbat games, garnering significant support from the Israeli public. . . . Yet no one was willing to rock the boat on this issue.
Instead we are left with a situation in which secular mini-market owners feel threatened if they keep their stores open on Shabbat while traditional or religious soccer players feel compelled to play on the holy day. . . .
Does this “status quo” make sense? Not from the perspective of those who pride themselves on supporting religious liberty. Furthermore, a more sensible approach would be doing everything possible for Israelis of different religious commitments to participate together in sporting and cultural events, especially when they are taking place within the country and under internal control. In the case of Eurovision, Israeli officials woke up too late to fight for religious accommodations.