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Stop Feeding the Antisemitism Outrage Merchants

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Michael Che making a joke about Israel's vaccine rollout on Saturday Night Live.
Michael Che making a joke about Israel's vaccine rollout on Saturday Night Live. Credit: Screenshot taken from YouTube
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

“Did you think it was antisemitic?”

“What was antisemitic?”

“The joke on Saturday Night Live.”

“What joke?”

“I can’t believe you didn’t see the joke.”

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I’ve had this conversation with three different friends and colleagues in the last three days and still haven’t watched the joke made by Michael Che on Saturday Night Live. It’s not that I’ve lost my taste for comedy or no longer find the various manifestations of Jew-hate intriguing and indeed important. It’s just that there’s so much antisemitism out there, real and imagined, and life is simply too short to investigate every allegation.

I’m told that the clip is only seven seconds long and therefore won’t take up too much of my precious time. But it’s never only seven seconds. If I click on the link and watch Che’s joke, I’ll be committed.

I’ll have to spend a lot longer than that forming an opinion and to do that I’ll need to first research Che’s background online to see if he has any priors. Try to find out whether his jokes on the show are actually his or written for him. And then work out whether there is a subtle nuance of antisemitism in the joke, and if so, was it intentional, subconscious or just ignorance?

That’s too much time to waste on a comedian I’d never heard of before, on a show which I don’t normally watch.

Try it for yourself as you scroll down your social media feed. There’s an almost daily supply of these suspect antisemitism remarks, tweets and jokes, offered for your displeasure. You can decide to miss out on some of them, and it doesn’t mean you care any less by not clicking. Just that you don’t need to have your time or timeline monopolized by outrage merchants.

I did the same thing a couple of weeks ago when an actress I’d never heard of (hold on, I need to google her name again) was fired  from a Star Wars spin-off for what were deemed by some as antisemitic memes she posted. 

When Gina Carano (that’s her name!) flickered on my radar, I simply decided, like a tired and grizzled homicide detective, that I had enough suspects to deal with. I still have no idea what the case against her contains, but I know enough about her and Che to deduce that they both one-side antisemites, in the sense that only one side of the political divide considers them as such. More on that in a moment.

Gina Carano attends the LA premiere of "The Mandalorian" at the El Capitan Theatre in Los AngelesCredit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File

Now, I’ll admit to having a cultural bias here. As a Brit, SNL and other staples of American popular culture are much less important to me. You can bet that it if Ian and Paul on Have I got News For You had been going on about “Zionists” and “global bankers,” I’d be all over it. Likewise, if the latest actor chosen to play the time lord had started posting dodgy memes from the Tardis. But even when it comes to British antisemites I’ve started to be more selective.

Yesterday I was totally into the story of the activist from Hackney who was forced to resign from the Mayor of London’s “Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm” because of blog-posts he had written about how the Holocaust had been used by Jews to create an “immoral hierarchy of suffering” and his fondness for pseudo-historic books putting Jews at the center of the slave-trade. I mean, the cancellation of a man appointed to cancel statues of London, my other hometown, how could I look away?

But at the same time, I’ve decided to tune out all news about David Miller, a lecturer at the University of Bristol who is being accused of antisemitism.

That’s all I’ve read about the accusations and I have no plans to delve any further. Partly because yet another weedy academic hiding his feelings towards Jews under the guise of being an “anti-Zionist” is hardly news and partly because I don’t have to read a word of his to know be 99 percent of what he really is. Nowadays, all you have to do is see who exactly are accusing the latest suspect of antisemitism and for an even more accurate read, who is taking the trouble to support him.

Take this professor in Bristol for example. From my Twitter timeline all I know is that there’s a furore around him and the only people to have jumped to his defense are the Electronic Intifada hate-site and Chris Williamson, the disgraced former MP who was too antisemitic even for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. So he’s obviously a wrong ‘un. No need to read any further.

The reactions on Twitter and whoever is reacting tell me all I need to know. I didn’t click on the links, but the fact that there was a piece on the +972 website explaining that Che was actually making a subversive comment on the similarity between racism in Israel and the United States and that Ben Shapiro has already stepped forward to produce the fired Carano’s next movie and Bari Weiss has interviewed her sympathetically, make it clear to me that everyone who considers Che‘s joke antisemitic is convinced of Carano’s innocence and vice versa.

This is why I’ve started to tune out most cases of alleged antisemitism. Especially when they come from America. It’s no longer about the facts, just about where the accused stands in relation to their accusers. But if facts no longer matter in this debate, then when to switch back and start paying attention again? 

I don’t have a good answer. It’s important to eradicate hate, towards Jews and all other groups, from popular culture as well. But honestly, how can anyone keep up? 

Since this is Purim week and the Megillat Esther is the urtext of the Jewish confrontation with antisemitism, let’s try and find some inspiration there. 

One of the details in the megillah I’ve always found intriguing and somewhat implausible is the way genocide was averted in the 127 states of the Persian empire. Achashverosh didn’t countermand his original directive to slaughter all the Jews. Because a signed royal edict could not be annuled. Instead he issued a new edict ordering that the Jews should get together and slaughter anyone trying to harm them. Which seems a bit odd as you would expect the Jews would have tried to save themselves from massacre either way.

The answer obviously is that the king’s edicts were crucial to show Jews’ neighbors which way the royal wind was blowing. After the first edict, they knew it was open season on the Jews and their property, with the King’s blessing. After the second, they could understand that actually, it would work out better for them if they stood by the Jews. 

If our long bloody history proves one thing, it’s that antisemitism exists everywhere, in every society and on both sides of the political divide. But it reaches truly existential proportions only where the ruling classes, not the chattering classes, give it sanction.

That is why Donald Trump’s years in the White House, when a president viewed neo-Nazis as “very fine people”, were such a period of peril for American Jews. And now that Trump is gone every effort must go to pointing out the malignant tumors of racism still metastasizing through his party

And it’s why for five years it was so important to expose the fact that Jeremy Corbyn had never met an Jew-hater and Holocaust-denier he did not like, lest the British public make the same mistake as the Americans and vote an antisemite into power. 

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