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With the biggest FIFA scandal to date dominating the headlines, I’m revisiting this piece from a couple of years ago about the growing indifference to justice throughout the world community.
Maybe that’s an argument in defense of referee Koman Coulibaly, who infuriated American soccer fans by disallowing a winning goal by team USA with no apparent justification. After all, it’s only a game. Wouldn’t all that passion be better directed against the gulf oil disaster or Iran’s nuclear weapons program?
In this case, at least, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) might agree. According to the New York Times, FIFA president Sepp Blatter “does not want video replay or extra referees on the end line at the World Cup. He favors debate over decisiveness and human frailty over intrusive technology, thinking that subjectivity helps soccer more than it hurts.”
Now there’s an interesting philosophy: human error by judges, umpires, and referees enhances competitive sports. But don your body armor before making that suggestion to Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga. Only two weeks earlier, you may remember, a blown call by umpire Jim Joyce on the last play of the game denied Mr. Galarraga baseball’s most coveted distinction — a perfect game.
In the aftermath, pundits have suggested that the baseball mishap did more for the sport than a perfect game ever could have. Mr. Galarraga was the model of graciousness, upset at being robbed but apparently harboring no resentment. For his part, Mr. Joyce appeared not only contrite but genuinely heartbroken. A week later, the league itself showed impressive quality of character when a hundred MLB players voted the repentant umpire the best in the game. All around, a sport that has been plagued with steroid and contract scandals produced extraordinary examples of dignity, restraint and — to revive an expression near to extinction — class.
In contrast, Mr. Coulibaly has yet to offer a single word of explanation, much less apology, for his inexplicable whistle-blowing. (However, mounting pressure may convince FIFA to reverse its own policy of refusing to comment on calls by the time this sees publication. Nothing challenges core values like bad press.)
But is it only a game? Every parent knows that the way children play reveals much about who they are deep down. It seems reasonable to assume the same about cultures: the way they play speaks volumes about their moral values.
MORE THAN A GAME
In American sports, everyone from fans to players to officials to high commissioners has weighed in on the use of instant replay to ensure the accuracy of calls at critical moments. Some argue that, in the interest of fairness, every available technology should be employed to ascertain the umpiric accuracy. Others are afraid that instant replay will slow down gamesalready mired in strategic interruptions and commercial breaks. But no one claims that accuracy doesn’t matter. And certainly no one has ever hinted that inaccuracy is good for the game.
What the Armando Galarraga incident so refreshingly demonstrates is that, to a large degree, Americans still care about facts and fairness. Umpire Jim Joyce acknowledged his mistake, expressed sincere remorse, and all was forgiven. What the Koman Coulibaly debacle indicates is that, to a large degree, the international community has lost all interest in truth and justice.
When such indifference to right and wrong confines itself to the playing field, we might pass it off as a sad but inconsequential character defect of sports celebrities. But this kind of skewed perception of reality long ago began seeping inexorably into the world of politics and social justice, most notably the assault by the community of nations against the State of Israel.
By all accounts, Israel should be the darling of the non-Arab world. Largely secular, the only democracy in the Mideast and the only Middle Eastern countryto have made concessions for peace, a socialist nation that has nevertheless become a burgeoning economic powerhouse, and a lone David surrounded by a hoard of Goliaths, Israel meets every criterion of European values. And yet, the European Economic Community and the European-dominated United Nations have, time and time again, cast Israel as aggressor and censured Israel for intransigence while ignoring facts and history that prove precisely the opposite.
Perhaps the United Nations should field its own soccer team. Perhaps Koman Coulibaly should seek nomination for the position of U.N. Secretary-General.
THE LAST EXILE
In his prophetic dream, the patriarch Jacob beheld celestial emissaries ascending and descending a ladder with its feet upon the earth and its top reaching the heavens. The sages of the Talmud teach that Jacob witnessed the guardian angel of Babylon go up seventy rungs and then descend, foreshadowing the Babylonian exile of 70 years. He then saw the guardian angels of Persia and Greece ascend 56 years and 180 years respectively, corresponding to the duration each would rule over the Jews. Finally, Jacob watched the guardian angel of Edom go up and up the ladder until he cried out to the Almighty, “Master of the World! Will this angel never come down?”
“Even if it reaches the gates of heaven,” replied G-d, “I will cast it down Myself,” implying that the nation of Edom would rule Israel until the arrival of the messianic era.
Nearly 2000 years ago, the sages identified the Roman Empire as the spiritual descendant of Edom, which was itself descended from Jacob’s wicked brother, Esau. But if the Roman Empire fell over 1500 years ago, how are we to understand the image of Rome’s guardian angel reaching the gates of heaven and surviving until the coming of the Messiah?
Esau was called Edom — meaning red — not because of his red complexion but because of his peculiar request that Jacob serve him “that red stuff,” by which he meant the bean stew he found his brother preparing when he came in hungry from the field. Color is the least intrinsic quality an object possesses, describing only the most external, cosmetic appearance without acknowledging function or purpose.
In this single moment, Esau revealed his defining quality as superficiality, the total lack of concern with anything other than outward appearances. And although the empires of Edom and Rome have long disappeared from the earth, the culture of superficiality that characterized them has become the salient characteristic of Western Civilization. In today’s culture wars, the final battleground between good and evil has become one in which evil claims to be good, conflating right and wrong with the empty sophistries of moral equivalence and political correctness, advancing arguments so thin and insubstantial that they fool no one who cares to look beneath the surface.
And yet, hardly anyone cares to look.
Soccer may be only a game, but it has become an international obsession. The contempt for truth articulated by its highest officials exposes a dangerous cultural bias and explains why the Europeans community would rather condemn the beleaguered nation of Israel than risk the consequences of antagonizing Israel’s belligerent and oil-rich enemies.
Jews around the world can take some comfort in the ability of America and Americans to still respond with passion in defense of truth. At the same time, the willingness of the current administration and so many in the media to rush to judgment against Israel offers unsettling evidence that we are approaching the fulfillment of the prophecy that, at the End of Days, Israel will stand against the world alone.
Originally published on Jewish World Review.