Michael Che/Vaccine
Michael Che makes a joke about Israel's vaccine rollout on Saturday Night Live on Feb. 20, 2021. (YouTube via JTA)

The petition will be delivered to NBC, the live comedy revue’s broadcaster.

(JTA) — The American Jewish Committee is circulating a petition asking “Saturday Night Live” to apologize for a joke that suggested Israel is vaccinating only its Jewish population.

“Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half,” Michael Che, the co-host of SNL’s news parody, “Weekend Update,” said on the most recent broadcast.

“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 AJC said in a petition posted online on Sunday that referred to the ancient libel that Jews are responsible for plagues. The petition will be delivered to NBC, the live comedy revue’s broadcaster.

Israel has come under some criticism for refusing to extend its coronavirus vaccination program to West Bank Palestinians, for delaying the delivery of vaccines to Gaza Strip Palestinians and for not being as robust in its vaccination outreach to Arab Israelis as it is to Jewish Israelis.

Israel’s government says that prior agreements and international law make the Palestinian Authority the responsible authority for West Bank Palestinian vaccinations, and it allowed the delivery of the Gaza vaccines after a short delay. Israeli officials acknowledge a lag in delivering vaccines to the Arab sector, and blame it in part on skepticism in the sector about taking the vaccine.

Israel’s envoy to Washington also called on the show to apologize. “I’m a big fan of humor but, perpetuating anti-Semitism is just not funny,” Gilad Erdan said Sunday on Twitter. “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 it. Apologize!”

Criticism of the joke from the AJC and other Jewish groups, and the Israeli ambassador, triggered counterarguments on social media from groups and individuals that have been critics of Israel’s vaccination policies regarding the Palestinians.

“Che, a comedian, might have presented this in a crass, simple way, devoid of nuance. Sure,” Yara Asi, a scholar who has written on the West Bank, said on Twitter. “But the underlying fact remains; Israel could, and was legally obligated to, do more to vaccinate Palestinians, and they consistently deflected.”

By Ron Kampeas

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