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SNL’s Israel Joke Was Good, Actually

If Israel wants people to stop joking about its oppression of Palestinians, it should stop oppressing Palestinians.

snl israel

On the latest episode of Saturday Night Live, Weekend Update co-host Michael Che made the following joke: “Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”

I do not particularly enjoy having to defend Michael Che, who has done many lousy things in the past, or SNL, which is usually pretty cringe territory politically, but I have been ineluctably drawn into the fray after seemingly every pro-Israel group, along with the actual Israeli government, descended on SNL to accuse it of a viciously anti-Semitic attack on the country.

Now, was Michael Che possibly eliding some of the particulars about Israel’s vaccination program within its own borders? Sure. But it is no secret that Israel’s vaccination program has been deeply discriminatory, because Israel is a pretty explicit apartheid state that controls and occupies Palestine and has refused to offer all but the most meager and conditional assistance to the Palestinians in obtaining vaccines for their people. The Palestinian vaccine program faces critical funding shortfalls, and Israel is secretly funding vaccinations in Syria as a way to get Israeli prisoners released. Israeli settlers who live in the occupied West Bank are getting vaccinated, but the Palestinians who live all around them are not. Israel even blocked some vaccine shipments from getting into the Gaza Strip. Israel eventually allowed the vaccines to go through, even though some politicians wanted them to be used as bargaining chips with Hamas. That’s the context we’re working with.

So you will forgive me for not taking the Israeli and pro-Israel protests against SNL too seriously. The excuse for not lifting a finger to help Palestinians is that, under the provisions of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians are responsible for public health in their own territories. But Israel is an occupying power and thus has responsibility for what happens in Palestine. Israel has an iron grip on every part of life in Palestine. Israelis control what goes in and out of the West Bank and Gaza, to the extent that they can block vaccines from getting into Palestine if they feel like it. I’m not exactly sure what you call a situation where a country says that a population it controls is responsible for its own healthcare, but then prevents the healthcare from getting to that population. “Fucked up and pretty evil,” perhaps?

These people—and, as a Jew, I am allowed to use the phrase “these people” when talking about these people—want it both ways, always. They want to say that Palestinians are in charge of their own destiny, but they don’t want to actually, y’know, hand over any actual power to the Palestinians. If Israel and its supporters are miffed that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is giving it some bad publicity, the problem is easily fixed. Israel can stop occupying Palestine, and it can stop oppressing the Palestinians. Until then, I think a few jokes are OK.