Comedian Michael Che Viciously Attacked For Criticizing Israel’s Apartheid-Like Vaccine Distribution To Palestinians

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Written by Ann Brown
Michael Che
Comedian Michael Che Viciously Attacked For Criticizing Israel’s Apartheid-Like Vaccine Distribution To Palestinians. Saturday Night Live (SNL) host Michael Che speaks at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, Sept. 18, 2018 file photo. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Comedian and actor Michael Che, best known for his parodies of current events on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” is in the news for what some are saying is an anti-Semitic remark.

During the Feb. 20 airing of “Weekend Update,” Che said, “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population. And I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”

Che co-hosts “Weekend Update” alongside Colin Jost. 

Che was referring to news reports that people in the Palestinian-occupied territories are having difficulty getting vaccinated while people in Israel are receiving the covid-19 vaccine at accelerated rates.

Millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are awaiting vaccinationInsider reported.

“Israel has all but ignored the millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories, according to Mondoweiss, a pro-Palestinian media outlet.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that it is not Israel’s responsibility to vaccinate people living in the Palestinian territories, The New York Times reported.

According to a recent World Bank report, the Palestinian vaccine plan was short on funds and encouraged Israel to donate excess vaccine doses to the Palestinian-occupied territories. 

The Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for Palestinians in the territories, has claimed the Israeli government is blocking vaccine shipments to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Reuters reported.

So was Che’s commentary a dig at Israeli apartheid? Was it anti-Semitic? The comment has sparked debate.

Some news organizations have focused on Israel’s vaccination rate, including PBS NewsHour and NBC Nightly News, according to Mondoweiss.

Several Jewish advocacy groups called on Michael Che and “Saturday Night Live” to apologize for the joke. Others, however, say that criticizing Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic — Che’s joke was pointed at the government of Israel and not at the Jewish religion.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told Insider in a statement, “Saturday’s deeply offensive joke about Israel’s covid-19 vaccination process not only missed the mark but crossed the line — basing the premise of the joke on factual inaccuracies and playing into an anti-Semitic trope in the process.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a nonprofit that consists of dozens of Jewish organizations, also condemned the joke in a statement

“We find the use of age-old anti-Semitic tropes on last night’s episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’ to be deeply troubling. It is particularly painful for this to occur at a time when anti-Semitic incidents, some resulting in death and injury, are at record highs,” the statement said. 

The statement continued, “’Saturday Night Live’s’ ill conceived ‘joke’ adds to the heap of lies and conspiratorial allegations surrounding the Jewish people and covid-19 that recalls medieval accusations of Jews being responsible for disease and plagues.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), a Jewish advocacy group, has started a petition calling on NBC, which airs SNL live, “to retract its outrageous claim and apologize immediately.” 

Other groups say there was truth in Che’s joke. Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish advocacy group seeking an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, tweeted, “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.” 

 In an essay for Haaretz, Joshua Shanes, an associate professor of Jewish Studies and the director of the Arnold Center for Israel at the College of Charleston, said that Che’s joke “wasn’t anti-Semitic at all.” 

The charge of antisemitism is “commonly tossed at critics of Israeli behavior,” Shanes wrote. “Pointing out Israeli systemic discrimination against non-Jews is not anti-Semitic.” 

This isn’t the first time a Black media personality has come under attack for criticizing Israel. In 2018, CNN fired news commentator Marc Lamont Hill for remarks criticizing Israel and calling for a “free Palestine.”

Hill pushed back against the criticism, tweeting, “At no point did I endorse, support, or even mention Hamas. This is dishonest. I was very clear in my comments about desiring freedom, justice, and self-determination for EVERYONE.”

He later issued a statement, “I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things,” The Washington Post reported.

When he was president, Barack Obama, too, was called out for what some considered anti-Semitic sentiment. In his memoir, “A Promised Land,” the ex-president detailed strained ties with Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies. In the book, Obama lamented that any criticism of Jerusalem makes one becomes suspect of anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic sentiments.

Obama wrote that Netanyahu’s “vision of himself as the chief defender of the Jewish people against calamity allowed him to justify almost anything that would keep him in power,” according to excerpts published by Jewish Insider.         

Obama wrote that he was the subject of a “whisper campaign” that sought to portray him as “insufficiently supportive — or even hostile toward — Israel” during the 2008 presidential race.

“On Election Day, I’d end up getting more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote, but as far as many AIPAC board members were concerned, I remained suspect, a man of divided loyalties; someone whose support for Israel, as one of (campaign manager David Axelrod’s) friends colorfully put it, wasn’t ‘felt in his kishkes’ — ‘guts,’ in Yiddish,” he wrote.

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Once he was president, Obama was still seen as anti-Israel, especially after his push for Israel to freeze settlement construction.

The former U.S. president said it was “reasonable” to ask Israel to take such a step, as it was the “stronger party.” However, “as expected,” Netanyahu’s reaction was “sharply negative” and Obama said his administration came under pressure from Netanyahu’s U.S. allies, The Times of Israel reported.