“Bobblehead Rav” Shmuley Boteach has written an op-ed regarding the response to the antisemitic joke Michael Che told on Saturday Night Live. Entitled Jews Must Engage Michael Che, Not Attack Him, Shmuley advocates the Jewish community sit and talk with Che.
So there I was watching this past Saturday night when I saw Michael Che – the talented comic who along with Colin Jost does the satirical news weekly “Weekend Update” – as he did a news bit about how Israel has vaccinated half its population. Che deadpanned: “I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”
I raised my eyebrows at the joke and pointed it out to my wife Debbie. Hmm. That didn’t seem that funny. I love Che. I find him vastly entertaining. I also love that he uses humor to eviscerate racists. But that joke sounded to me like… well, like maybe he meant it. Che was saying that Israel is not vaccinating its Arab citizens and cares more about its Jews.
I thought to myself, Che often does humor about inequities and racism in American society. So it looks like he’s buying into a narrative that Israel looks after its “white” Jewish population but not its darker-skinned Arab and Palestinian citizens.
What a shame. How unfortunate that a good guy like him thinks that.
So how can we have failed to inform mainstream African-American personalities like Michael Che of these truths?
We can, of course, accuse Che of anti-Semitism. Many, stupidly, already have and even called for the firing of whoever wrote the joke. But is that fair? Does Che have any history of anti-Semitism? To paraphrase Abraham, will a just community not itself practice justice?
What we in the Jewish community don’t want to accept is that our natural allies and friends in the African-American community are increasingly being told that Israel is a racist country that practices apartheid. And rather than respond intelligently and factually, we’re just assuming that we can’t win these arguments in the marketplace of ideas.
I saw it with our own gala this past Thursday. We were honored to hold an evening dedicated to African-American and Jewish friendship, with celebrities like Steve Harvey and Dionne Warwick joining the festivities.
Linda Sarsour tried to publicly discourage some from participating in the event. Evidently, the friendship between the Jewish and Black communities is not something she would encourage. But for the most part, she failed.
Because, the truth is, we have great friends in the African-American community who love and support us, just as we love and support them.
So why would we be silly enough to attack Michael Che as an anti-Semite when we can be far more effective respecting him and giving him the facts?
He told an unfortunate and offensive “joke” about Israel. It was a blunder. Instead of attacking, let’s turn it into a teachable moment and engage him in a dialogue.
The response is to tell him, we get the attempt at humor. However, while this is not your intention, your joke unwittingly perpetuates the false notion that Israel doesn’t care about its Arab brothers and sisters. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Michael, I would say to him, you’re a good man. Every week on national TV, you fight racism, bigotry, and racial prejudice. And you do so with humor and good cheer. I’m impressed. Look to the Jewish people as your natural allies in that struggle. We too know what it’s like to be maligned. We too know what it’s like to be misrepresented. And we too know what it’s like to have people make what would seem to be innocuous jokes but which often lead to situations that are anything but funny.
And if you’ve got time Michael for a coffee, well, two weeks ago I was given a shout-out on SNL when they mentioned “Rabbi Shmuley.” My kids loved it. So I assume you know where to find me.
One main objection to this piece is it is coming from the guy who recently planned to honor at his gala BLM co-founder Alicia Garza, who has a history of excusing antisemitism. She actually did pull out after initially accepting his invitation, following antisemite Linda Sarsour advising her that Shmuley is a Zionist. He alludes to it in his piece when he writes
Linda Sarsour tried to publicly discourage some from participating in the event…But for the most part, she failed.
Note he cannot bring himself to inform that Garza withdrew, instead euphemistically referring to it with “for the most part, she failed.” In fact, I am pretty sure Shmuley still has not publicly acknowledged Garza’s rebuff.
Then there’s Shmuley painting Che unequivocally as a “good guy,” which seems to be partly on the basis of Boteach loving his sense of humor, but mostly because he “uses humor to eviscerate racists.” Perhaps Che is a good guy, just one who sees no problem in painting Jewish people as only caring about other Jews. But perhaps he isn’t. I don’t really trust Shmuley when it comes to judging character. He seems here to be almost pandering to Che, perhaps setting up for the coffee invitation at the end of the piece.
Yes, the coffee invitation. Shmuley advocates the Jewish community sit down and talk to Michael Che. And he’s clearly the man for the job! This seems to be yet another example of Shmuley’s seeming obsession with meeting and being photographed with celebrities. And he cannot help but mention how he “was given a shout-out on SNL when they mentioned “Rabbi Shmuley”” – completely out of place in this piece.
Shmuley also writes that:
We can, of course, accuse Che of anti-Semitism. Many, stupidly, already have and even called for the firing of whoever wrote the joke. But is that fair? Does Che have any history of anti-Semitism?
Yes, he does. Well, at least of jokes insensitive to Jewish people. Like the one I mentioned in my previous post on Che:
“GoDaddy has shut down a website that hosts a ‘Miss Hitler’ beauty pageant. Coincidentally ‘Miss Hitler Beauty Pageant’ was the working title for ‘The Ingraham Angle.’ By the way Colin (his co-host), if you’re wondering who the winner of the ‘Miss Hitler’ pageant was Miss Israel.”
And I find it unfair to paint accusing Che (or the writers) of antisemitism as “stupid.”
I do not appreciate Shmuley’s pandering approach and readiness to excuse antisemitism so easily, especially when celebrities are involved. Don’t get me wrong, I support reaching out to the person involved and trying to educate them. But I also think it important to call out antisemitism loudly and clearly. Both can be done in parallel.
Incidentally, Shmuley has also published the same piece in the Jerusalem Post, but with the different title SNL’s Michael Che is not an antisemite. If you think this post is harsh on Shmuley, check out the comments there.