Jeopardy in a spot after Bethlehem goof up
Contestant’s Palestine response on Jeopardy! deemed wrong
Political controversy over the location of the oldest church in Christianity is threatening to overshadow what should be the popular US game show Jeopardy’s finest moment, a special all-star tournament that drew more than 50 million viewers in four days.
The question about whether the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is in the Palestine or Israel came during a regular game on Friday. In ruling a competitor wrong for answering that the church at the birthplace of Jesus was in Palestine, and docking her $200, Jeopardy’s judges sparked a storm.
“Jeopardy owes an apology for endorsing Israel’s universally condemned illegal takeover of the Palestinian lands,” said Omar Baddar of the Arab American Institute.
The Jeopardy! category was “Where’s that Church?”
The clue, for $200 (Dh734.5), was about an ancient basilica, “built in the 300s AD”, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The answer that was deemed correct on Friday’s episode has plunged the TV game show straight into criticism — and deep into the heart of debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Just after host Alex Trebek read the prompt about the Church of the Nativity, contestant Katie Needle was first to buzz. Responding in the show’s standard question-as-answer format, she said, “What is Palestine?”
But Trebek told Needle, a retail supervisor from Brooklyn, that she was wrong.
Then contestant Jack McGuire buzzed in, saying, “What is Israel?”
“That’s it,” Trebek said, awarding $200 to the tourism consultant from San Antonio, Texas.
While that total made little difference — Needle, who was already in the lead, ended up winning the episode anyway — the answer behind it sparked a firestorm of controversy over the weekend, as prominent commentators and pro-Palestinian activists demanded an apology from
Jeopardy! for misstating the location of the historic church.
“The Church of the Nativity is in Bethlehem, which is Palestine, NOT Israel,” said Scott Roth, the publisher of the progressive Jewish website Mondoweiss. “The woman answered Palestine and you ruled her wrong.”
“Unacceptable!!” Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Arab American Institute, wrote on Twitter. “Katie Needle got the correct answer & was robbed ... @Jeopardy owes an apology for endorsing Israel’s universally-condemned illegal takeover of Palestinian lands.”
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and allowed Jewish colonists to move in. But Palestinians and much of the international community consider the area, including Bethlehem, to be illegally occupied Palestinian land.
World Heritage Site
The Church of the Nativity, considered by many to be the birthplace of Jesus, sits by a white-stoned square in the heart of Bethlehem near the Israeli wall that encircles the West Bank.
Unesco, which considers the church to be a World Heritage Site, lists it as one of three such locations in Palestine.
So for many of those who slammed Jeopardy! over the weekend, the trivia answer was more than, well, trivial. It was a commentary, implicit or not, on Middle East geopolitics.
The Oslo Accords of 1995 give control over Bethlehem and the West Bank to the Palestinian National Authority, though that is complicated by Israeli colonies and military checkpoints. Under a historic ‘Status Quo’ agreement, the church and other holy sites near in the area must be jointly shared and protected by various Christian denominations.
James Zogby, a Democratic pollster and co-founder of the Arab American Institute, slammed the Jeopardy! episode as “an insult to history, reality, [and] the thousands of oppressed Palestinians of Bethlehem.”
Katie Needle on Jeopardy! correctly saying that the Church of the Nativity is in Palestine.