Last week, Jeopardy! waded into the old, complex conflict between Israel and Palestine with a simple question that has layers of complications on top of it. It’s entirely possible Alex Trebek and the show he hosts weren’t entirely aware of just how much history and theology they were drudging up, but social media’s been buzzing about it ever since.
It started under the Jeopardy! category “Where’s That Church?”, in which contestants are given clues about a church building location. The “answer” for this particular round was “Built in the 300s A.D., the Church of the Nativity.”
That church is, of course, in Bethlehem. According to tradition, the Church of Nativity sits on the place where Jesus was born. Contestant Katie Needle buzzed in and responded: “What is Palestine?” Trebek said “No.” Contestant Jack McGuire chimed in with “What is Israel?” and was awarded the points and Needle glared at the cameras, confused.
It seems like a pretty straight forward situation unless you have any idea of the area’s long and contested history.
In brief, Bethlehem is in the West Bank, a hotly contested strip of land Israel took control of during in 1967, during the Six-Day War. Palestinians and many international allies consider the ongoing Israeli occupation of those lands to be illegal.
This is why Jeopardy!‘s answer was so controversial. Perhaps unintentionally, the show had taken a side in a deeply controversial topic. In fact, an online petition was started to demand that Jeopardy! apologize for the answer.
It appears Jeopardy! powers may have tried to strike a compromise during the episode itself. When the show went to a commercial break, Needle’s score sat at $4,600. When it came back, she was at $4,800 — prompting some internet sleuths to guess that Jeopardy! surreptitiously awarded her the points without addressing it on air.
And then, things got even weirder. Sony released a statement saying that during the taping of the show, “we became aware that the clue was flawed as written and that determining an acceptable response would be problematic. In accordance with our rules and in the interest of fairness, we voided the clue and threw it out.”
Sony re-shot the round with a different, less thorny question but the original, un-edited version of the episode accidentally aired anyway.
In any case, Needle went on to win the game. On Twitter, she later voiced support for Palestine.