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A top Jewish organization slammed Michael Che's controversial joke about Israeli vaccinations on 'SNL' and reached out to Lorne Michaels

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Insider
Insider
 2021-02-23

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Anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che during 'Weekend Update' on Saturday, February 20, 2021.
  • Michael Che's controversial "SNL" joke on Israel's treatment of Palestinians was met with criticism.
  • The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League said the "Weekend Update" joke "crossed the line."
  • He said he reached out to Lorne Michaels over the line about Israel's vaccinations and other jokes.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories .

The CEO of a top Jewish nongovernmental organization said it reached out to Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of "Saturday Night Live," over the use of Jewish jokes during the show's comedic news segment.

Michael Che, a co-anchor of "Weekend Update," said during Saturday's episode, "Israel is reporting that they've vaccinated half of their population, and I'm gonna guess it's the Jewish half." The joke was met with huge backlash as Jewish groups called it "anti-Semitic" and accused the show of promoting anti-Jewish tropes.

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 antisemitic trope in the process."

Greenblatt said the ADL, which tracks extremism and anti-Semitism, has identified other "Weekend Update" jokes this season "that inappropriately use Jews as the punchline," and that he reached out to Michaels "urging Saturday Night Live to take action both to repair the damage that's been done and ensure that this does not happen again."

The satirical news segment, in which Che and co-host Colin Jost discuss real news events with false, comedic punchlines, usually makes false claims as part of its joke. Che's Saturday night joke called out the Israeli government for its disparate treatment of Jews and Palestinians . Though religion is not a factor in the country's vaccine rollout, millions of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank , whom Israel has said it does not need to vaccinate, await vaccines.

The joke also came after anti-Semitic incidents have been rising in recent years . Critics of the joke argued that it also alluded to anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish people spreading disease and only caring for themselves, stereotypes that have persisted in some ways since the Middle Ages .

Several Jewish organizations criticized the joke after the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a nonprofit that brings together dozens of Jewish organizations, condemned it in a statement Sunday. "It is particularly painful for this to occur at a time when antisemitic incidents, some resulting in death and injury, are at record highs," the statement said.

Amid the backlash, others doubted that the joke was anti-Semitic at all, and simply poked fun at the Israeli government. 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 antisemitic at all" in an essay for Haaretz .

"Pointing out Israeli systemic discrimination against non-Jews is not antisemitic," he wrote.

A spokesperson for "SNL" did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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