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Why Michael Che’s ‘SNL’ joke about Israeli vaccinations sparked debate over anti-Semitism

Anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che during the “ weekend update ” on Saturday February 20, 2021. Will Heath / NBC / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

  • Michael Che’s ‘Weekend Update’ joke about the vaccination rollout in Israel has sparked an uproar online.

  • Several Jewish advocacy groups called on Che and “Saturday Night Live” to apologize for the joke.

  • But others have said that criticizing Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic.

  • Visit the Insider home page for more stories.

Michael Che’s joke about the Israeli vaccination rollout on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend sparked a backlash online as several Jewish organizations called on the NBC show to apologize.

“Israel reports that it has vaccinated half of its population, and I guess it’s half Jewish,” Che said Saturday night during “Weekend Update,” the satirical news segment on “SNL” that ‘he hosts alongside Colin Jost.

On “Weekend Update”, Che and Jost share real news headlines with funny punchlines. Because this is satire, these lines are often inaccurate and offensive to some. But Che’s joke – which is no stranger to controversial jokes during his “SNL” segment – inspired a quick reaction.

Critics said Che’s joke encouraged dangerous stereotypes about Israel and the joke was anti-Semitic, while others celebrated the joke for calling out the Israeli government, as millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza wait. to be vaccinated.

Insider has previously reported on tensions in the American Jewish community, where many are politically divided, particularly over Israel.

A spokesperson for “Saturday Night Live” did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The joke slammed the Israeli government for its treatment of non-Jews

Religion is not a factor in Israel’s vaccine eligibility plan; Che’s joke criticized the Israeli government’s treatment of non-Jews living in the Palestinian territories.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it is not the country’s responsibility to immunize people living in the Palestinian territories. The “disparity” between Israeli vaccinations and Palestinian vaccinations has already “sparked heated debate,” reported The New York Times.

The Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for the Palestinians in the territories, accused the Israeli government of blocking vaccine shipments to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Reuters reported.

The World Bank said in a report on Monday that the Palestinian immunization plan was underfunded and urged Israel to donate excess vaccine doses to the occupied Palestinian territories.

Many criticized the joke and called it ‘anti-Semitic’

The controversy comes as anti-Semitic incidents escalated last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the United Nations. Many critics of Che’s joke have cited the story of the Jewish people blamed for massive deaths and the spread of disease.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of ADL, told Insider in a statement: “Saturday’s deeply offensive joke about Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination process not only missed the mark, but crossed the line – basing the premise of the joke on factual inaccuracies. and playing into an anti-Semitic trope in the process. “

Greenblatt said the ADL found other “Weekend Update” jokes this season that “inappropriately used Jews as a punchline,” and contacted Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of “SNL,” to discuss jokes.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a nonprofit that consists of dozens of Jewish organizations, condemned the joke in a statement Sunday.

“We find the use of secular anti-Semitic tropes on last night’s episode Saturday Night Live be deeply disturbing. It is particularly painful that this is happening at a time when anti-Semitic incidents, some resulting in death and injury, are reaching record levels, “the statement said. The organization spoke of how Jewish communities have been accused of some COVID-19 epidemics.

The statement continued, “Saturday Night LiveThis person’s ill-conceived “joke” adds to the heap of lies and conspiratorial allegations regarding the Jewish people and COVID-19 that are reminiscent of medieval accusations of Jews responsible for disease and plagues. “

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the UN, said in a tweet that the segment was “ignorant” and called on “SNL” to apologize. “I’m a huge fan of humor, but perpetuating anti-Semitism just isn’t funny,” Erdan said.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), a Jewish advocacy group, has launched a petition “calling on NBC to withdraw its outrageous statement and immediately apologize.”

Anti-Semitic tropes on Jews circulated throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, some still exist in different forms today. The blood slander conspiracy theory, which claims that Jews abducted and murdered Christian children, provides the vague basis for the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory movement. Jews have also been blamed for the spread of the bubonic plague, also known as the “black plague”, leading to massacres of Jews.

Avi Mayer, general manager of global communications for AJC, said in a tweet that given this story, Che’s joke was not “funny at all; it’s dangerous”.

Marianne Williamson, the former Democratic presidential candidate, said in a tweet that she “cringed her teeth” during the segment. “Enough of what the Israeli government does is worthy of legitimate criticism; lying about what they do is just as bad,” she said.

Some celebrated the joke for calling the Israeli government

Following the controversial joke (and intense backlash), many activists and advocacy groups celebrated Che for the joke and criticized the review itself.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish advocacy group seeking to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, said in a tweet: “They say there is a grain of truth in every joke, but this SNL has it. 5 million – the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who have yet to receive vaccines. “

Rohan Talbot, an advocate for medical aid to Palestinians, said Israel has “individually ruled” Israel and the Palestinian territories, but “has guaranteed access to vaccines to only half of that combined population.”

In an essay for Haaretz, Joshua Shanes, associate professor of Jewish studies and director of the Arnold Center for Israel at Charleston College, said Che’s joke “was not anti-Semitic at all.”

The charge of anti-Semitism is “commonly leveled against criticism of Israeli behavior,” Shanes writes. “Highlighting Israel’s systemic discrimination against non-Jews is not anti-Semitic.”

This article has been updated to include a statement from Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

Read the original article on Insider


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