Health minister: SNL gag that Israel only vaccinating Jews is ‘anti-Semitic lie’

ADL also criticizes joke made by Weekend Update co-host Michael Che that while Jewish state boasts of inoculating half its citizens, only the ‘Jewish half’ got the shot

Saturday Night Live Weekend Update co-host Michael Che on February 20, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Saturday Night Live Weekend Update co-host Michael Che on February 20, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein condemned “Saturday Night Live” on Monday after one of its actors joked that only Jews are being vaccinated in Israel, calling the allegation an “anti-Semitic lie.”

“Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I’m gonna guess it’s the Jewish half,” cracked Weekend Update co-host Michael Che to a chuckling audience on Saturday.

“Just to let you know that anti-Semitism is not funny, it is dangerous, and also a lie,” Edelstein tweeted, tagging SNL.

“By the way, in Israel, all residents regardless of religion and ethnicity have equal access to vaccines, and Israeli-Arabs enjoy one of the highest vaccination rates in the world,” Edelstein added.

Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein presents the new health basket a press conference in Jerusalem on February 10, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As of Tuesday, over 4.4 million Israelis have received their first vaccine dose, and three million have received the second, out of a population of 9 million.

“Satire is supposed to be funny, not offensive and your ‘joke’ is nothing more than an anti-Semitic lie, which can have dangerous consequences in a country where only two and a half years ago 11 Jewish worshipers were murdered, just because they were Jews,” he said, referring to the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Israel has offered vaccinations to all of its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, in addition to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. But critics have faulted the Jewish state for not vaccinating the roughly five million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The Anti-Defamation League also criticized the joke, saying in a statement that the gag “not only missed the mark, but crossed the line — basing the premise of the joke factual inaccuracies and playing into an antisemitic trope in the process.”

The American Jewish Committee began circulating a petition on Sunday demanding that the show apologize for the joke.

“Saturday Night Live’s ‘joke’ isn’t just untrue — it’s dangerous, a modern twist on a classic anti-Semitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of countless Jews throughout the centuries,” the petition read, claiming that the joke referred to the ancient libel that Jews are responsible for plagues. The document will be delivered to NBC, which broadcasts SNL.

Israel’s Consul General in New York Israel Nitzan tweeted at SNL, writing, “Spreading antisemitic lies & misinformation is already a problem. Fanning the flames just to get a laugh is not only wrong, it’s irresponsible. Israel has made the vaccine available for its entire population equitably, regardless of gender, race or religion.”

Ellie Cohanim, who served as US deputy special envoy to combat anti-Semitism in the Trump administration, tweeted, “Under the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority is responsible for all health & social welfare needs. Contact SNL & NBC and demand they apologize for their modern-day blood libel against Jews.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the anti-occupation group IfNotNow appeared to defend Che. “The familiar cycle begins,” the group wrote. “1) Media calls out Israeli government for structural inequalities between Jews & Palestinians. 2) Israel-Can-Do-No-Wrong crowd calls criticism antisemitic. 3) Demand an apology to refocus the conversation on words, not the ongoing denial of Palestinian rights.”

Critics of Israel’s vaccination policy point to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power is required to provide vaccines to the inhabitants of the territories under its control.

Israel rejects the claim that it occupies the West Bank, saying the territories it has ruled since 1967 are “disputed,” rather than occupied. It also notes that it has pulled out of Gaza, though it maintains a blockade over the territory, which it says is necessary to protect the safety of Israel. As such, Jerusalem has never accepted the applicability of that international law statute to the territories.

Israel also maintains it is not responsible for inoculating the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The government points to the 1995 Oslo Accords, which stipulates that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, while both sides are to work together to combat epidemics.

In recent days Israel has transferred several thousand doses to Ramallah for the Palestinian Authority to vaccinate medical staff, and on Friday, the PA announced that Israel had agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinians who are employed in Israel.

Israel also temporarily delayed the transfer of Russian-donated vaccines to Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade meant to prevent the flow of weapons to the enclave-ruling terror group Hamas, which kicked off its vaccination program on Monday.

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