Israeli PhD candidate fights to wear pirate costume to thesis defense in Holland


Michael Afanasyev wearing a colander in a picture he said the Israeli interior ministry used in his passport. (Courtesy of Omroep West)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) —  Michael Afanasyev says he has a right to wear a pirate costume to defend his PhD thesis. And Dutch officials say he may have a case.

The Dutch human rights ombudsman agreed to review the Israeli student’s religious discrimination complaint after his university refused to allow him to wear a pirate suit to his thesis defense.

The government watchdog said it would mediate in a meeting on Tuesday between Afanasyev, a 38-year-old Russia-born Israeli geohydrologist at Delft University of Technology, and faculty, the Omroep West broadcaster reported.

Afanasyev requested permission to wear the costume citing his membership in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism. The largely satirical movement was founded in 2005 to spoof  organized religion.

The main founder of the movement, Bobby Henderson, has said that a decline in the number of pirates over the years is the cause of global warming. The movement’s loose set of rules includes showing up in pirate costumes to official events.

Last year, a U.S. federal judge ruled that Pastafarianism, whose followers often challenge governments and courts for recognition, is not a real religion. But earlier this year, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce reversed its earlier refusal to register the movement as a church, following an appeal. It was registered as such earlier this year.

Afanasyev’s complaint touches on a sensitive issue in the Netherlands, where in recent years the influx of Muslim immigrants has ushered in an acrimonious debate over wearing religious garb in public. Delft University of Technology allows students to wear yarmulkes and other religious head coverings at official functions but have nonetheless declined Afanasyev’s request, with a spokesperson calling it “inappropriate,” Omroep West reported.

Backing up his claim, Afanasyev presented to the media and to the human rights ombudsman a picture of his Israeli passport, in which he is seen wearing a colander on his head. He said the Israeli interior ministry allowed him to wear it in the picture.

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