In his monologue on Saturday Night Live (SNL), comedian Dave Chappelle rightly scrutinized the actions and statements of rapper Kanye West and basketball star Kyrie Irving, and acknowledged the persecution that the Jewish community has experienced throughout history. 

However, his remarks stirred controversy. For many in the Jewish community, his jokes crossed the line at a moment when antisemitism is on the rise and fears of violence against Jews is heightened. 

Antisemitism is not an issue for the Jewish community alone, it’s a threat to every minority group and to society as a whole. No matter one’s take on Chappelle’s humor, it’s important to understand why some of his lines were problematic. Here are three key takeaways:

  1. Claiming that Jews blame antisemitism on Black Americans is false and divisive. 

Chappelle said: “I know Jewish people have been through horrible things, but you can’t blame that on Black Americans; you just can’t. You know what I mean?” 

To suggest that Irving was chastised for antisemitism because he is Black is false and harmful. Antisemitism is wrong regardless of who is spewing it.

The Black and Jewish communities should be united in the fight against antisemitism and racism. This is why American Jewish Committee (AJC) prioritizes working with coalition partners to bolster democratic values.

  1. Jokes about ‘Jewish Control’ are not so simple.

In referencing Kanye’s former partnership with Adidas, Chappelle said: “I don’t want a sneaker deal because the minute I say something that makes those people mad, they’re going to take my sneakers away. I hope they don’t take anything away from me,” adding with a smile and conspiratorial whisper “whoever they are.”

No matter one’s view of Chappelle’s style of humor, he gave viewers a look at centuries-old antisemitic propaganda that Jews are behind the scenes controlling various industries and people, as explained in AJC’s Translate Hate glossary.

“I’ve been to Hollywood. It’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot,” adding that he could see how one could “adopt the delusion that the Jews run show business.” 

The trope of Jewish control and influence can be dangerous, even if Chappelle was trying to mock it. The 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and the hostage situation this year at a synagogue in Colleyville both demonstrate how belief in antisemitic conspiracy theories can lead to violent consequences.

  1. The impact of social media should not be taken lightly. 

Chappelle shared a few highlights from Kanye West’s troubling antisemitic tirade, starting with the rapper’s tweet “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” 

Joking about the ridiculousness of Kanye’s tweets and downplaying their importance is dismissive of the fact that Kanye West has a social media following of over 50 million. NBA star Kyrie Irving recently shared with his millions of social media followers a film that denied the Holocaust, called Jews satanic, and blamed them for the slave trade. This dangerous promotion of antisemitic content is why AJC has been calling on Amazon to remove the anti-Jewish book and film from its platform.

Similarly, Chappelle’s quips reached millions, including over five million on YouTube alone in less than 48 hours. 

Antisemitism is primarily spread online, especially on social media. Those with large platforms must be mindful of their impact, whether intended or not. AJC’s Call to Action Against Antisemitism, a society-wide nonpartisan guide for America, includes a series of recommendations calling on everyone – especially influential voices like Dave Chappelle – to prevent this spread, correct false narratives, drown out hateful voices, and push antisemites back to the far-fringes of the internet where they belong, far removed from mainstream platforms and access to impressionable minds. View AJC’s entire Call to Action Against Antisemitism here.

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