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.prevnext
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.prevnext
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 was over the line. They argued that the joke was not anti-Semitic, but more likely anti-Apartheid.prevnext
Remember this from Michael Che? Seems to be a pattern. https://t.co/LYDxvyXTui— Lahav Harkov, Space Laser Controller (@LahavHarkov) February 21, 2021
While they were debating the intent behind his Israel joke, many critics brought up other recent jokes Che has made, arguing that they were over the line as well. Whether they disliked this weekend's joke or not, most people acknowledged that Che's humor is controversial at best.prevnext
Re: Michael Che's joke on SNL about if Netanyahu admin is vaccinating Palestinians, here's my article that sets out facts. Within Israel, Arab citizens get vaccinated but despite international law, they aren't vaccinating Palestinians in West Bank/Gazahttps://t.co/z1djvkqJdj— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@DeanObeidallah) February 21, 2021
Many users backed up their arguments about Che's jokes with links to in-depth articles about the situation for Palestinians. They argued that Che's critics were simply not well-informed enough to contextualize his joke.prevnext
Michael Che knows he's in the spotlight. He knows all eyes are on him, so he's going to say something that matters, not just go out for a chuckle. Good for him for using his platform in a global way.— @Homegriddle2021🌎 (@Soul420sugar) February 21, 2021
Critical support to comrade Michael Che in the struggle against the fascist apartheid regime pic.twitter.com/Ur2OaTpqBz— nepalmaoist (@yatasuregima) February 21, 2021
Along the same lines, many users praised Che for making his joke about Israel, figuring that he knew he would come under fire for it. They saw this as an important issue to shine a light on, which comedy is often the best tool for.prevnext
Weird how Michael Che should be crucified for telling what is CLEARLY NOT anti Semitic, simply a timely observation of a current news topic, yet some y’all want to fly the flag at half mast for Rush Limbaugh. pic.twitter.com/qHlbGdwBAU— Ron Murphy (@RonMurph859) February 21, 2021
Michael Che is not anti-semitic, but there’s a whole political party that has welcomed people who are with open arms and made them into a huge part of its base. If anyone’s interested in helping out our cause— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) February 21, 2021
Finally, many users argued that the people who are criticizing Che are, in some cases, supporters of even more dubious figures — including far-right conspiracy theorists. They argued that Che's joke was harmless, and that debating it would only give oxygen to the arguments of real anti-Semites.prev