Israel ambassador demands apology from SNL over controversial vaccination joke

Israel ambassador demands apology from SNL over controversial vaccination joke
Critics have accused Saturday Night Live and comedian Michael Che of anti-Semitism over the reference to Israel's inoculation campaign.
3 min read
22 February, 2021
SNL co-head writer Michael Che stands accused of anti-Semitism [Getty]
Israel's ambassador to the US has demanded an apology from long-running sketch comedy show SNL over a joke that critics say was anti-Semitic.

In the "Weekend Update" segment of Saturday Night Live, co-host Michael Che referenced Israel's Covid-19 vaccination programme.

"Israel is reporting that they've vaccinated half of their population, and I'm gonna guess it's the Jewish half," Che said on Saturday.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the US and the United Nations, has demanded an apology over the segment.

"I'm a big fan of humor but, perpetuating antisemitism is just not funny," Erdan said in a tweet.

"Your 'joke' is ignorant-the fact is that the success of our vaccination drive is exactly because every citizen of Israel - Jewish, Muslim, Christian-is entitled it. Apologize!" he said.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and pro-Israel organisation Stand With US have also condemned Che and SNL for the "anti-Semitic" joke.

The jibe mirrors an ancient libel that holds Jewish people responsible for plagues, the AJC claimed.

"Saturday Night Live's 'joke' isn't just untrue - it's dangerous, a modern twist on a classic antisemitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of countless Jews throughout the centuries," the advocacy group said in a petition posted on Sunday.

Stand With Us has also launched an online petition calling on network NBC to apologise for the controversial segment.

While it is true that the Covid-19 vaccine has been offered to Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Israeli government has been condemned by human rights groups for refusing to share doses with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel has also been accused of blocking vaccine shipments to Gaza.

Defenders of Saturday's joke contend that disparity is what Che was referring to.

"They say there's a grain of truth to every joke, but this SNL one has 5 million - the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who have yet to receive vaccines," responded advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace.

If Not Now, an American Jewish group that opposes Israel's occupation of the West Bank, also defended the joke.

"They're vaccinating illegal Jewish settlers and not Palestinians living under occupation [in the West Bank]. SNL's mediocre jokes about Israel's unjust distribution of the vaccine are not harming Jews," it said on Twitter.

Israel rejects claims it is responsible for the vaccination of Palestinians but groups including Human Rights Watch say the Oslo Accords mandate Israel's aid in public health crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Take-up of the Covid-19 vaccine is also much lower among Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Leading Palestinian-Israeli politician Ayman Odeh complained last year that the government has spent millions of shekels on an awareness campaign that has been "completely absent" from Palestinian communities.

Lower take-up is also down to historic distrust due to decades of unequal treatment, Abraham Initiatives co-executive director Thabet Abu Rass told The Forward.

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