Opinion

Is It Okay to Watch a Sports Game on Holocaust Remembrance Day?

Blocking regular television programming respects the memory of the Six Million but denies viewers the chance to make meaningful moral decisions

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo looks dejected after missing a chance to score.
Reuters / Sergio Perez Livepic

It was 9:45 P.M. Sunday. El Clásico. The Spanish league game Real Madrid versus Barcelona. It was the game of the season, Ronaldo versus Messi and every other soccer cliché you could think of. And once again the big game was being played on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, leaving many Israeli sports fans in agony: To watch or not to watch?

The Israeli government had made its position clear: Don’t watch. Absolutely not. And once again, the sports channels, private companies subject to regulation, wouldn’t dare object. They knew that if they broadcast the game the damage to their reputation would be irreparable.

I presume they were also guided by ideological considerations the heads of those channels genuinely think it’s inappropriate to broadcast sports on Holocaust Remembrance Day (or on Memorial Day for that matter).

Whatever the reasons, the outcome was the same. Once again Israeli sports fans couldn’t watch El Clásico. If they flipped to Channel 50 (ONE), which broadcasts Spanish League soccer, they found a slide telling them – as if they didn’t know – that it was the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The only other option, rather than spending the evening watching horrifying documentaries in black and white, was to search for an accessible link online.

One can debate whether a government should compel its citizens not to watch a soccer game because it has decided, and rightly so, to commemorate an event of such tragic proportions. But I’m more interested in the choice of the individual who has been denied the option of watching the game.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique celebrate after the match.
Reuters / Susana Vera Livepic

After all, doesn’t the state’s decision not to let El Clásico be broadcast diminish the meaning of not watching El Clásico and watching programs on the Holocaust? In other words, does a choice made in the absence of any real choice hold any moral value?

It may sound a little strange, but consider the opposite option. Let’s say soccer fans knew that El Clásico was being broadcast on a certain channel even though it was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Let’s say they read that this time the government had decided not to interfere and would let Channel 50 show the game.

And let’s say these viewers ultimately decided to resist the temptation and not  watch the game, even though it was just a click of the remote away. Wouldn’t their choice to forgo watching the game out of respect for Holocaust Remembrance Day mean a lot more than it could in the current situation?

Let’s put it in simpler terms. Whom would you admire more – people who turned on Channel 50, saw that there was no El Clásico and so, for lack of choice, flipped to Channel 2 to see that “dreary stuff” making them miss the biggest game of the year? Or people who turned on Channel 50, saw that El Clásico was being shown but decided to change the channel out of respect and watch a program on the Holocaust?

The answer is glaringly obvious and also says something about the effect of government coercion to make citizens take part in national events when alternatives are strictly prohibited. Even if the coercion serves a useful purpose of inculcation, genuine solidarity in connection with those events is lessened.

Coercion and bans may compel “the masses” to imbibe what the state wants to feed them, but the passivity in which the citizen is placed regarding his moral choice – in this case being deprived of the option to watch a soccer game – diminishes the value gained from his participation in a national ritual.

Or consider a man so unattractive that he never gets the chance to cheat on his wife, so he remains faithful. Then compare him to someone with the opposite characteristics who’s constantly resisting the many temptations and remains faithful to his wife.

Doesn’t someone who has to pay a high price for maintaining a certain value – “faithfulness” in this case – deserve greater admiration than someone who upholds that value simply because he has no choice? Doesn’t value only exist where there’s a real choice?

Personally, I’m in favor of forgoing Messi versus Ronaldo on Holocaust Remembrance Day. But out of choice, not out of lack of choice.