ADL chief blasts Dave Chappelle monologue as ‘normalizing’ antisemitism

Jonathan Greenblatt says comedian’s SNL bit on Jews in Hollywood ‘diminishes, popularizes’ Jew-hatred, but most Jewish leaders refrain from weighing in on controversy

Dave Chappelle hosts 'Saturday Night Live,' November 12, 2022. (NBC Universal via JTA)
Dave Chappelle hosts 'Saturday Night Live,' November 12, 2022. (NBC Universal via JTA)

The head of the Anti-Defamation League on Sunday blasted comedian Dave Chappelle for a monologue about Jews, saying the bit “popularizes” antisemitism, though most Jewish leaders avoided weighing in on the matter.

Chappelle opened “Saturday Night Live” with a lengthy monologue commenting on the antisemitism controversies surrounding Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving.

The comedian mocked the handling of antisemitism in the entertainment industry, saying it’s “not a crazy thing to think” Jews control Hollywood and implied that Jews blamed Black Americans for their trauma.

“We shouldn’t expect [Dave Chappelle] to serve as society’s moral compass, but disturbing to see [SNL] not just normalize but popularize antisemitism,” said ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt.

“Why are Jewish sensitivities denied or diminished at almost every turn? Why does our trauma trigger applause?” Greenblatt wrote.

The ADL’s director of community engagement, Carly Pildis, said Chappelle “wants to joke about antisemitism but he isn’t living with the consequences.”

“Chappelle could have made a really powerful moment standing up against hate while making us laugh. He has the talent to make that choice. Instead, he chose to make Jews and the hatred we face the punchline,” she said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center also lashed Chappelle and NBC, which hosts SNL, for the monologue.

“Dave Chappelle had the power to put anti-Semites in their place, and that’s how his SNL monologue began. By the end, he mainlined some of the worst core resurgent antisemitic tropes,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s director of global social action. “NBC Universal should never have allowed their platform to be used to push antisemitic hate.”

The response to Chappelle from Jewish leaders has been muted though compared to the opprobrium generated by West’s incessant antisemitism and Irving’s promotion of an antisemitic film, which he initially refused to apologize for. Chappelle’s comments were seen as less egregious, as West directly threatened Jews and Irving publicized a film trafficking in anti-Jewish conspiracies and Holocaust denial.

Chappelle has sparked a backlash in the past for jokes that critics deemed transphobic, homophobic and sexist. His comedy has long delved into sensitive racial politics in the US.

His 2021 Netflix special “The Closer” prompted a walkout by Netflix employees and protests for its jokes about the transgender community. The special also included jokes about Jews that prompted some minor criticism.

At the start of his SNL monologue, Chappelle unfolded a piece of paper and read from it, saying, “‘I denounce antisemitism in all its forms. And I stand with my friends in the Jewish community.’ And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.”

Kanye West watches an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, January 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

He then went on to explain that over his 35-year career in comedy he has come to learn that there are “two words in the English language that you should never say together in sequence: ‘The’ and ‘Jews.’”

He then mocked West’s threat to go “death con 3” on Jews and the rapper’s boast that Adidas, his former corporate partner, would not dare sever ties with him. The sneaker company broke ties with West days later.

“Ironically, Adidas was founded by Nazis,” said Chappelle, “and they were offended. I guess the student surpassed the teacher.”

“I’ve been to Hollywood and — no one get mad at me — I’m just telling you what I saw,” he said. “It’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot.”

“But that doesn’t mean anything! You know what I mean? Because there are a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, it doesn’t mean we run the place,” Chappelle said.

The joke echoed a familiar line of Jewish defense groups, who are often at pains to point out that a disproportionate Jewish presence in an industry is not an indication of a conspiracy — an age-old canard.

But Chappelle leaned harder into the joke, leading some reports on the monologue to suggest that he was justifying and defending West’s antisemitism.

Dave Chappelle arrives at Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 22nd Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in Washington, October 27, 2019. (Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP, File)

He said the “delusion that Jews run show business” is “not a crazy thing to think,” but “it’s a crazy thing to say out loud.”

He also said of West, “It’s a big deal, he had broken the show business rules. You know, the rules of perception. If they’re Black, then it’s a gang. If they’re Italian, it’s a mob. If they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it.”

Chappelle also alluded to a similar controversy surrounding Irving, star of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, who was suspended for tweeting about the film that promotes a series of antisemitic canards.

“Kanye got in so much trouble that Kyrie got in trouble,” Chappelle said. “This is where I draw the line. I know the Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world, but you can’t blame that on Black Americans.” The line was met with silence until a single audience member was heard to hoot approval. “Thanks, the one person that said ‘woo.’”

Chappelle closed what for SNL was an unusually long opening monologue by seeming to allude to “cancel culture” and the controversy that swirled around his own comedy and charges that he is transphobic.

“It shouldn’t be this scary to talk about anything,” he concluded. “It’s making my job incredibly difficult. And to be honest with you, I’m sick of talking to a crowd like this. I love you to death and I thank you for your support. And I hope they don’t take anything away from me… whoever they are.”

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