Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When No Bias is the Worst Bias

Imagine if after Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, a leading congressional figure had said, "Obama is fully qualified to take on the presidency. And the fact that he's black should not raise any problems."
Such a statement would, justifiably, raise the obvious follow-up question: Why would it be a problem? You see, the very fact that someone thinks there's a need to deflect criticism isn't indicative of a lack of bias, but of the most sinister, insidious bias. (It's kind of like saying, "Some of my best friends are black.")
Now, no politician that I'm aware of was stupid enough to make such a statement about Obama. But what if the statement was said not about being African American, but about being a religious Jew?  There'd be an outcry! The world would not stand for it! Right? Don't be on it.
Recently, the Israeli government released the identity of the candidate for the top spot in the Shin Bet. The Jerusalem Post reported that,
Yoram Cohen will make history as the first head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to wear a kippa – serving as another example of the increasing presence of national religious officers within Israel’s security and intelligence organizations.
Cohen, 51, lives in Jerusalem but grew up in Tel Aviv and went to a yeshiva high school in Pardess Hanna, before being drafted into the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion.
Oh, there's another apparently important detail about him: he wears a Kippah. In other words, he's a religious Jew.
Defending the decision to appoint Cohen to the position,
Former Shin Bet head (Israel Security Agency) Yaakov Perry on Tuesday morning said that incoming chief Yoram Cohen is "a professional with moderate views" and in the past had supported a deal to release Gilad Schalit, according to Army Radio.
"The fact that he is a religious person should not interfere, though he is the first person to enter this position wearing a kippa," Perry told Army Radio.
Phew! That's a relief. Because it's clear from the question and answer that most - if not all religious Jews are complete fanatics who can't serve their country with distinction. Why else would they have to go out of their way to emphasize just how "moderate" he is - as opposed to the rest of us.
How would the non-religious public feel if every kippah-wearing Israeli assumed that they were Meretz-supporting liberals willing to give the country away to the Arabs? Can we question the fitness of the non-religious public to serve their country because they don't keep the mitzvot? After all, won't they just make yeridah and end up Miami or LA anyway?
I hope that the time will soon come when the general Israeli public stops looking at every kippah-wearing Jew with suspicion; when we're appreciated not just for our spirituality, but for the values and contribution we bring to the table.
Because sometimes, just asking the question reveals that the bias rests not in the heart of the subject of the question, but in the person who asked it.