February 24, 2021
NBC owes its Jewish audience a lot of apologies. And the list keeps growing.
The outrage started when a “joke” on NBC’s Saturday Night Live helped spread an antisemitic canard to millions of viewers. But the string of offenses didn’t start or stop there.
Here are three examples of troubling and ill-informed content aired by NBC this month, including a failed attempt at comedy, a sensationalized medical drama, and an irresponsible news report about Israel’s vaccination success: three instances of classic antisemitic tropes, negative Jewish stereotypes, and disinformation.
“The Jewish Half”
On February 20, during SNL’s “Weekend Update” segment, cast member and comedian Michael Che reported Israel’s landmark achievement of vaccinating half of its citizens. But the punchline wasn’t a laughing matter.
"I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half,” Che joked, reinforcing the flat out lie that Israel is only inoculating its Jewish citizens against COVID-19.
Of course, Israel is vaccinating Jewish and Arab citizens alike. Two thirds of Arab Israelis over the age of 60 have already received at least one dose.
The joke put a modern twist on a classic antisemitic blood libel that has inspired the mass murder of countless Jews throughout the centuries. In the Middle Ages, thousands of Jews were burnt at the stake after being blamed for the Black Death and accused of taking care of their own.
In the 20th century, the Nazis accused Jews of spreading disease and seized on that falsehood to justify imprisoning Jews in ghettos and carrying out the mass murder of European Jewry.
AJC immediately wrote a letter to NBC, demanding a retraction and apology. It also urged fans to petition the network. So far, more than 15,000 people have added their names.
Che has a history of picking on Israel. Last May, he reported that GoDaddy had pulled the plug on a website hosting a “Miss Hitler” beauty pageant, adding that the winner was Miss Israel. His quip echoed the antisemitic trope of drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Religion vs. Medicine
Che’s wisecrack wasn’t the first distasteful portrayal of Jews on NBC this month. The lame one-liner reminded many viewers of an equally troubling theme on the February 9 episode of “Nurses,” a Canadian medical drama acquired by NBC.
The show about five young nurses on the front lines of a Toronto hospital featured a plot line about a Hasidic Jewish teenager named Israel who injures his leg playing basketball instead of attending synagogue services. Israel’s father prefers to rely on his Creator to heal him instead of modern medicine.
I think this is the most antisemitic thing I have ever seen in a TV show pic.twitter.com/oS1hPFIjcj— Seffi Kogen (@seffikogen) February 24, 2021
When Israel is told that he’ll need a bone graft from a deceased person inserted into his leg to fully heal, he and his father recoil at the thought of a body part inside him that once belonged to someone not Jewish. “A goyim leg,” his father says in disgust, using a pejorative term for non-Jews. “Of anyone. An Arab. A woman.”
Again, the writers should have checked their facts before portraying an observant Jew as more than willing to put his child’s wellbeing at risk. Jewish law does not preclude bone grafts or transplants from organ donors – Jewish or non-Jewish. On the contrary, Jewish law calls for embracing modern medicine, especially when life or limb are in danger.
But then, that fact might lead viewers to think positively about the Jewish characters.
UPDATE: After this article was published, news reports indicated that NBC would remove the episode in question from its streaming platforms.
Return to Normalcy
Similarly, on Sunday, NBC Nightly News couldn’t let positive facts about Israel’s vaccination program get in the way of a story, no matter how forced.
In a report about Israel’s reopening plan for gyms, hotels, and swimming pools, the reporter introduced the country’s innovative passport system for those fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. Then after reciting statistics about the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, she added input from “critics,” who point out that “although nearly half of Israelis have received at least one dose, the country has supplied far fewer shots to the Palestinians.”
The truth is Palestinian leaders opted to develop their own responses to COVID vaccination rollouts in Gaza and the West Bank, initially rejecting Israeli offers of assistance and working with the World Health Organization, various governments, including Russia, and several pharmaceutical companies.
Why NBC thought the three-second jab was necessary for a piece about the Jewish state’s vaccine progress and return to normalcy is as unclear as the omission of three more seconds of context.
Yet another example of NBC failing to check its facts about Israel in order to yield the most negative spin.