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Israeli comedian Tom Aharon takes on John Oliver over Israel criticism

Local comic, who models his show on Oliver’s ‘Last week tonight,’ says HBO star gets a lot wrong about the conflict

Tom Aharon in his video responding to John Oliver. (Screenshot from YouTube via JTA)
Tom Aharon in his video responding to John Oliver. (Screenshot from YouTube via JTA)

JTA — In case you missed it, British-American comedian John Oliver unloaded on Israel in a widely viewed segment of his weekly HBO show “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday night.

Unsurprisingly it prompted heated social media responses from both sides, but it also inspired an extended answer from a popular Israeli comedian who modeled his own show after Oliver’s.

Tom Aharon hosted “Pa’am Be’shavu’a im Tom Aharon” (“Once a Week with Tom Aharon”) on Israeli TV from 2018 to 2020 and is now developing a new show. He is of Mizrahi descent and often critical of his native country, but he argues in a seven-minute video that Oliver’s critique went too far.

“I would hope to someday have just a fraction of a white man’s confidence when I’m talking about things that happen thousands of miles from where I live,” he says in the video posted Wednesday, which as of Thursday morning had garnered nearly 44,000 YouTube views in a day. “S***, I don’t even have that much certainty about things that happen in my own home.”

Aharon begins by pointing out just a few of the many celebrities who have come out strongly against Israel’s actions in the ongoing military conflict with Gaza. He also shows snippets from Oliver’s segment, including one in which Oliver raises his voice to call Israel “an a**hole.”

“Everyone has a right to criticize Israel, it’s ok — I mean, the Holocaust did just happen, but ok, if you have to, that’s how I make my living,” he says in response. “Some might even conclude that we’re the bad guys — someone’s gotta be it right? But I also believe that simplifying a complex matter doesn’t do justice to either side.”

Aharon then goes after the specifics of Oliver’s arguments, including one about the imbalance of military power between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Does being stronger bear certain responsibilities? Sure. But does it automatically mean you’re at fault? Of course not. It almost sounds like you’re mad at us for not taking more casualties,” he says.

“Claiming that imbalance is immoral is the privilege of those who don’t need to make the choice between their own safety and their care for others.”

Like Oliver, whose career took off as a correspondent on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” Aharon became a known comedian through appearances on Lior Schlein’s satirical Israeli news show “Gav HaUma” — the closest thing Israel has to a “Daily Show” equivalent. Aharon then modeled his own show after Oliver’s HBO series, which he humorously calls “the incredibly popular HBO show I never stole format from.”

“It pained me to see a personal hero of mine saying something” he found so “unfair, unjust” and “simplistic,” Aharon added.

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