‘Saturday Night Live’ joke plays into false, dangerous misconceptions


Midway staff

Rather than making an exaggerated statement, Mr. Che played into misleading information already heavily circulating the internet and social media, writes content manager Noa Appelbaum.

Noa Appelbaum, Content Manager

“Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.” Michael Che, role-playing as a news anchor for Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live,” uttered these now infamous words on the Feb. 20 episode. Following the studio audience’s sparse laughter after the remark, critics flocked to social media to share their opinions, reposting the video and commenting on their concerns. Israeli leaders expressed their disapproval, as did the Jerusalem Post and members of the Anti-Defamation League.

Mr. Che’s comment, while perhaps intended lightheartedly, is contributing to America’s rising anti-Semitism and misconceptions around Israel, and reflects the deep-rooted stereotypes and prejudice many have toward Jews.

As a Jewish person, I am well acquainted with not only the prominent anti-Semitism on the internet and social media, but also of the rising hatred toward Israel and Jews portrayed on the news. While comedic platforms like “SNL” resort to Jewish jokes for perhaps an “easy” laugh, Mr. Che’s remark is different. Instead of exaggerated tropes that many can distinguish from reality, it plays into false and dangerous misconceptions that many people already have.

Che’s comment drifted into the dangerous “middle ground” territory. Rather than making an exaggerated statement, Mr. Che played into misleading information already heavily circulating the internet and social media. I see it on Instagram often, as classmates or acquaintances repost that Israel, the country with the highest vaccination rates in the world so far, has refused to vaccinate Palestinians. However, it is not that simple, as Israel has faced a delay and many legal questions on whether they have the authority to vaccinate Palestinians outside of Israel’s borders. Mr. Che’s one-sided sentence does not even begin to unravel the complexities of the issue, and is sure to create more negative feelings toward Israel and the Jews who reside there. 

Mr. Che’s comment also reflects a widely-believed stereotype that Jews are selfish. Mr. Che didn’t say he thought it was the “Israeli half,” but rather, the “Jewish half.” This implies that the Israeli government only cares about Jews and also suggests that Jewish people and the government are in agreement with one another. This is also false, as many Israeli Jews are critical of the government’s policies. Mr. Che’s comment also suggests that only Jews reside in Israel, further associating the entirety of the Jewish population with Israel’s actions.

When Mr. Che said he’s “going to guess” it was the Jewish half, he highlighted his internalized prejudices — he heard a fact about Israel, and he immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Jews will only protect themselves. This again construes negative stereotypes and prejudice toward Jews that are already deeply-ingrained in our society.

I encourage viewers of “SNL” and other comedic platforms to be critical, both of the show’s content but also of their reactions. It is easy to be influenced by others’ biases, and comedy shows like “SNL,” while entertaining, are even more threatening, because the fine line between exaggeration and reality is blurred. We need to do further research before taking what “SNL” says too seriously, and I encourage everyone to examine their internalized biases if they immediately regard “SNL’s” jokes and dramatizations as factual.

“SNL” is known to cross the line with their broadcasting of stereotypes and one-liners, yet Mr. Che’s joke is not an obvious exaggeration — instead, it reflects very real biases many have. With “SNL’s” millions of viewers, many are sure to have viewed the Feb. 20 episode as confirmation to their existing biases or perhaps were even persuaded on a topic they knew nothing about. While I wish for a future where we can poke fun at stereotypes without people taking them to heart, I am well aware that today, jokes like Mr. Che’s have the opposite effect.