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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the latest person to criticize Saturday Night Live, after Weekend Update host Michael Che joked in February that the country was only vaccinating the “Jewish half” of its population.
“That’s so outrageous,” the Israeli PM told Fox News on Thursday. “In fact, I brought vaccines and went especially to the Arab communities, the Arab citizens of Israel, and vaccinated as many as we can. I must have gone to half a dozen Arab communities already, talked with the mayors there, bought the leaders, brought the doctors there—Arab doctors.”
In late February, the comedian accused Israel of discriminating with its world-leading vaccine program, which has vaccinated half of its population, the most per capita anywhere on the globe.
“Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population,” Mr Che joked, “and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”
In studio, the routine provoked a mild smattering of laughter, but outside, critics accused the show of anti-Semitism and even protested on the street near the studio, while others praised the comedian for highlighting the inequalities of who gets the vaccine in the country and its contested zones.
“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,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote afterwards on Twitter.
Top Israeli officials shared his criticism, including Gilad Erdan, the country’s ambassador to the US.
“I’m a big fan of humor but, perpetuating antisemitism is just not funny,” Mr Erdan tweeted. “Your ‘joke’ is ignorant — the fact is that the success of our vaccination drive is exactly because every citizen of Israel — Jewish, Muslim, Christian — is entitled [to] it. Apologize!”
As with much of the Israel-Palestine conflict, whether the joke was accurate is a matter of perspective.
Israel argues that under the 1990 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are responsible for their own health systems and the vaccination of the roughly 5 million Palestinians, who are not full Israeli citizens. The country has donated some vaccines to Palestine as well, and recently agreed to vaccinate roughly 100,000 Palestinians who cross into Israel for work.
But Palestine is far from an independent state, as Israel has a strong security presence, and controls travel in and out of it, as well as restricting trade. Human Rights Watch estimates that 80 percent of Palestinians depend on humanitarian aid. The Palestinian authority has accused Israel of preventing shipments of the Covid vaccine from reaching Gaza.
The debate over vaccines come as Israel begins returning to normal—with gyms and other public places open to the vaccinated—while infections surge in the West Bank, which recently went on coronavirus lockdown.
Israel and Pfizer agreed to a massive vaccine rollout in exchange for providing health data.
Palestinians so far have largely relied on a trickle of donated vaccines from countries like Russia, the UAE, and Israel.
Among the doses, which only number in the tens of thousands, the New York Times reported on Wednesday that some are being diverted to party elites and political insiders ahead of frontline workers and other vulnerable groups.