Saturday Night Live is under fire this weekend for a joke about Israel’s coronavirus vaccination program. During the “Weekend Update” segment on Feb. 20, co-host and head writer Michael Che joked about the Israeli government’s claim that it has vaccinated 50-percent of its population. Some viewers called it anti-Semitic when he said: “and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”
Che’s joke ended there, apart from a bemused camera take by co-host Colin Jost. However, the one-sentence quip led to thousands of words’ worth of discourse on social media, where many believed Che was being anti-Semitic. For some, criticizing the Israeli government at all is practically anti-Semitic, though others took a more nuanced view of the issue.
For those that do not typically follow international politics, Che’s joke was confusing, so news stories about the issues plaguing Israel began circulating as well. Radio host and MSNBC columnist Dean Obeidallah directed many people to his article, which he believed summed up the facts of the situation with Israel’s vaccination program. He drew on sources at the United Nations, the World Health Organization and more to make sense of the data.
Human rights experts for the U.N. wrote that “the COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging the West Bank and Gaza in recent months, and has fractured an already badly under-resourced Palestinian health care system.” The W.H.O. found that Palestinian territories are seeing a 1.1-percent mortality rate from the novel coronavirus — far higher than the 0.7-percent rate in Israel.
Obeidallah and other critics blamed this on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has been accused of treating Palestinian territories as “the world’s largest open-air prison,” and many described his policies as a form of Apartheid. At the same time, many questioned Che’s short take on the subject, and whether he was speaking from a place of humanitarian concern or bigotry. Here is a look at the responses to his loaded joke.
Any criticism of the actions of the Netanyahu led Israeli government is always met with cries of anti semetism. It’s Netanyahu’s response to everything
— jimmy craig (@threepeaks74) February 21, 2021
The challenge of taking on Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine is always the confusion of seeing it as anti-Semitism. The current admin in Israel is a frequent violator of human rights. The fact that Michael Che is under fire for this is absurd.
— Everett (@everettb_) February 21, 2021
Che’s defenders argued that accusations of anti-Semitism are often used to defend the actions of Netanyahu specifically, but that they do not apply here. The Israeli Prime Minister is highly controversial for policy-based reasons, but not for his religion.
Israel hasn’t vaccinated any of the 5 million Palestinians that it holds stateless by force of arms. That’s what Michael Che is talking about. And it blocked/delayed vaccinations from getting to Gaza. He’s right. https://t.co/SnyshoOQ17
— Saqib Ali (@s_saqib_ali) February 21, 2021
Leave Michael Che alone. If you’re upset about that joke; wait until you learn about discrimination in Israel.
— Disobayish 🥫 (@SemYeto) February 21, 2021
Many critics of Netanyahu wondered how it could be called anti-Semitic to be concerned about the disparate treatment of another minority group. They pointed out that the lack of vaccines for Palestinians is a verifiable fact, not a conspiracy theory.
devastated to have to defend michael che but there’s nothing antisemitic about acknowledging apartheid https://t.co/Smj5nsDVfP
— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) February 21, 2021
Didn’t think I would need to stand up for Michael Che and weekend update but here we are
— MasterAgressive/FearlessConqueror/VulgarSpecialist (@joseeee650) February 21, 2021
Many commenters said that they are no fans of Michael Che, but nor did they think this joke…