Passover, Slavery and the World Cup

The main part of the Passover Seder isn’t bitter herbs or cups of wine, it is called "Maggid" -  the telling of the story of the end of Jewish slavery in Egypt and we’re not just supposed to read a few details or historical facts, we are supposed to go into great detail - the Haggadah tells us that the more that we dwell on our historical experience of being slaves in Egypt, the more praiseworthy we are. But it happened 4000 years ago! What value today is there for us in 2016 in an ancient tale of enslavement and freedom?

Just as with Holocaust education, the rabbis of old, the ones who compiled the Haggadah,  believed that we need to understand the Exodus, and the slavery that led to it, in part because it shaped us as a people, but also so we can understand that  slavery is evil, and that nobody can 'own' another human being - so that we can say with sincerity: “Never Again!”.

Ok it’s a nice idea, but it’s 2016 and the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1865 ending slavery in the United States and essentially the western world. Surely this is a done issue - It’s hardly likely that a modern state is going to revert to slavery right? And if it did, the UN, US, EU etc would make that state a pariah on the world stage, - they'd be compelled to by the public outcry of people like you and me wouldn't they?

qatar-2022.jpgPerhaps not - The World Cup is being staged in Qatar in 2022, (and aside from the massive scandal about how they actually got to host the thing in the first place), the way they are building the stadiums is nothing short of horrific - Qatar is doing it with migrant workers that it has essentially enslaved,  in fact  a form of slavery that ought to be very familiar to us Jews: an entrapped people forced to build monuments to the power of a Pharaoh. In this case the Pharaoh is Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar. The thousands of workers building the stadiums for him suffer inhuman living conditions; their passports are held by their employers and their death toll is like that of a small war - an estimated 62 dead workers for every match that will be played in the tournament -  these slaves will be forced to work throughout Qatar's viciously hot summer, when temperatures routinely reach 50°C (122°F) - I challenge anyone to tell me these people aren’t slaves every bit as much as our ancestors.

Whats even worse, is that this human rights abomination is being enabled by the rest of the world - as far as I am aware, not a single national football association or broadcaster, has dropped out of the 2022 World Cup; and no advertisers have withdrawn sponsorship. 

So this year, when we read the Haggadah, and learn of the awful experiences of our ancestors at the hands of the Egyptians, let's try to remember that back then the Jewish people had Moses standing before Pharaoh in their name. Who will stand up for the slaves of Qatar - perhaps the descendants of a former enslaved people who remind themselves of that experience every year on passover? 


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Tags: Passover, Pesach, Holidays, society