FEBRUARY 25, 2021
On February 20, “Saturday Night Live’s” (“SNL”) co-head writer and “Weekend Update” co-anchor Michael Che responded to Israel’s news that it has vaccinated half of its population against COVID-19 by suggesting it was only “the Jewish half.”
The resulting laughter from the audience demonstrated once again that antisemitic “humor” has gained a foothold in mainstream culture. In the best case scenario, Che’s was an uninformed comment, lacking any understanding of Israel’s actual treatment of its diverse population. Worst case, it was an intentional perpetuation of classic antisemitism dressed up and played for laughs.The truth is that Israel’s inoculation campaign benefits all of its citizens. Israelis of all backgrounds, including Jews, Muslims, and Christians, have been receiving the vaccine.
While over 75% of Israel’s people are Jewish, the rest of its population is comprised of Arabs and citizens of many other backgrounds. All Israelis over the age of 16 have equal and immediate access to vaccinations for the coronavirus, a far cry from prioritizing access only for Jews.
Moreover, Israel has given the vaccine to many Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and shared vaccines to help protect the healthcare professionals of the Palestinian Authority (PA); Israel is also reportedly coordinating with the PA to vaccinate another 100,000 Palestinians. As has been repeatedly pointed out, the Palestinians specifically told Israel they did not want Israel’s help in obtaining the vaccine for people in the West Bank and Gaza, and proudly proclaimed they would be procuring the vaccine themselves. Despite this, Israel still offered to help.
Finally, the information that Israel’s medical professionals collect in relation to the vaccine will ultimately be made available for the benefit of people all around the world.
Unfortunately, as is often the case where Israel is concerned, the facts are largely ignored because they are inconvenient. For those who push a political agenda aimed at undermining the Jewish state of Israel, facts about how Israel is working for the good of others are counterproductive and dissonant to the false narrative of Israel as the bogeyman and “occupier” of the Middle East.
That narrative has gained popularity within our culture because of lies spread by people like Che, and these lies masquerading as humor are often tolerated because they are falsely believed to be grounded in reality.
What many fail to understand, however — maybe even Che, assuming he isn’t an antisemite — is the real harm to Jews that can result from misinformation disguised as humor.
Because Israel is often treated as a proxy for Jews collectively, comments like Che’s — that Israel is giving vaccines only to its Jewish citizens — directly contribute to growing antisemitism. Such claims fan the flames of classic antisemitic tropes and fuel stereotypes that lead to hatred — from the public square and the university campus, to the halls of government and social media outlets.
It is well past time for those with visible platforms in our culture to begin treating antisemitism with the same level of seriousness — and unapologetic condemnation — that they treat racism and other forms of bigotry. Sadly, “SNL’s” “joke” has already been used to promote antisemitic words and deeds.
Numerous Jewish organizations, as well as over 5,000 people, have joined the StandWithUs letter-writing campaign to Che and “SNL” condemning Che’s “joke.” Regardless of whether those peddling antisemitic rhetoric ever acknowledge their bigotry, we must continue to make our voices heard on this matter and call out anti-Israel and anti-Jewish lies wherever we find them.
Carly F. Gammill is Director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism.
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