Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” is a satirical skit news segment with nearly half a century of tradition behind it. The premise has always been the same: a true story in the news from the past few days, followed by a punchline with a ridiculous lie or an over ridiculous exaggeration of the story. Typically, the mix of truth and ridiculous falsehood gets the audience laughing.
This week on Weekend Update, the comedians reported that Israel had been successful at vaccinating half of its population against COVID-19. This was officially announced by Israel, meaning that part of the story is, in fact, news. However, then the punchline followed, when the comedian announced that Israel had vaccinated half of the population, but “the Jewish half.” A subtle hint saying Israel prefers its Jewish population over the non-Jewish population.
The audience laughed, as they tend to do when comedians take a jab at any group, they continually take jabs at white Americans, Trump, Republicans, among other things. This time though, there is enormous controversy around the joke.
Jewish organizations and social media users pounced immediately, accusing the TV Network NBC and the comedian Michael Che of antisemitism. The American Jewish Communitytweeted, “Last night, SNL falsely accused Israel of vaccinating only its Jewish citizens. @NBCSNL’s “joke” is a modern twist on a classic antisemitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of Jews.”
Last night, SNL falsely accused Israel of vaccinating only its Jewish citizens.@NBCSNL's "joke" is a modern twist on a classic antisemitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of Jews.
— American Jewish Committee (@AJCGlobal) February 21, 2021
Very dramatic statement.
Joshua Shanes, a writer for Hareetz writes:
“They did not clarify what traditional trope this was. Something related to a pandemic, I assume, so perhaps the idea that Jews poison water wells? Perhaps they meant the “blood libel,” the accusation originating in medieval times that Jews kill Christians in order to use their blood for ritual purposes? That charge is commonly tossed at critics of Israeli behavior.
In any event, the joke is not a twist on any such trope. Jews in this joke are not an international conspiracy – the most important of all antisemitic myths – nor are they a minority community blamed for deliberately spreading disease among non-Jews. It was a joke about how a sovereign state openly discriminates against non-Jews, which the AJC rhetorically and shockingly connects to the “mass murder of Jews.”
The overly dramatic complaints simply highlight a bigger issue, and that is our modern discourse around Israel and the debate about the problems with different definitions on what exactly consists of antisemitism. Pointing out issues within the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic, nor it should be pointing out Israeli preference for its Jewish citizens, which results in discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens.
The reality is, Israel is 74% Jewish, and at the moment, vaccination rates of Israeli Arabs is much lower than that of Israeli Jews. Why is this? According to a January article published on The Christian Science Monitor, it is due partially to distrust of the government in the Arab community.
On Sunday afternoon, the topic of the supposed SNL antisemitism was trending. Some people coming to SNL’s defense, others attacking the show. Former state assemblyman Dov Hikind weighed in and said “Unsurprising coming from SNL as they have a long record of antisemitism.”
Simultaneously, Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of racism in connection with the vaccine roll-out.
“Leave Michael Che alone. Israel is not vaccinating the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem & Gaza–all of which is ultimately under Israeli control. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I find this medical apartheid appalling,” one woman tweeted.
Joshua Shanes, on his opinion piece for Hareetz concludes:
As Israel deepens its occupation of the West Bank, with all of the criminal acts this involves, as it brings moreopenly fascistelements likeItamar Ben GvirandBezalel Smotrichinto its government, criticism of its behavior is going to increase. In response, there is a growing movement to suppress such criticism – including satire – as antisemitic, because it is criticizing Jews, which somehow connects to vague “tropes.”
If Israel or its supporters does not like the way people mock the facts on the ground, they should work to change the facts on the ground for the better – to reverse its ever spiraling move towards Jewish supremacism and anti-Palestinian oppression – instead of accusing those who point it out of antisemitism.