By Ray Hanania
Whenever someone criticizes Israel, the first thing you hear is that they are “anti-Semitic.” There is a simple reason for this: Israel’s supporters use accusations of anti-Semitism as a means of silencing the critics and preventing a public discussion on the issues.
That happened this week, when Michael Che, a comedian on the popular US TV entertainment and comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” criticized Israel for failing to provide vaccinations to Palestinians. As co-host of the show’s satirical segment, “Weekend Update,” Che said: “Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I am going to guess it is the Jewish half.”
The American Jewish Committee and other groups denounced Che’s joke as being anti-Semitic. That is about the worst thing you can say about anyone and it can often be a career killer in America, where sensitivities about Israel trump concerns about the truth.
But what is the truth? Well, I reached out to someone I trust and who is honest and balanced in dealing with controversial issues: Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of Israel’s Knesset and leader of the Arab Joint List. He told me that about a third of the Palestinian citizens of Israel had received a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination. But he added that many others simply do not want the vaccination. “There is a problem of Arabs going, agreeing to get the vaccines, a hesitation of the Arab community. There are a lot of vaccines,” Tibi said.
However, the 1.8 million Palestinian citizens of Israel only represent a small portion of the non-Jews under Tel Aviv’s control. There are about 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, plus another 1.8 million in Gaza. Why are those Palestinians important to this issue? Well, Israel has settled more than 400,000 people in illegal settlements throughout the West Bank, plus close to another 200,000 more in East Jerusalem. It is vaccinating those settlers, but not the Palestinians who live under its occupation.
Satire is often used to help the public find the truth of a matter through the maze of lies, propaganda and public relations spin. We should be grateful to Che for having the courage to use satire to raise this issue and help us get to the truth. But I don’t believe the defenders of Israel, such as the American Jewish Committee, want the public to see the truth because the truth is an ugly imbalance.
Israel has been criticized for its discriminatory policies against both its non-Jewish citizens and the non-Jews who live under its occupation. That is not a discussion the supporters of Israel want to have because the country’s fundamentally discriminatory policies disqualify it from being a true democracy. A country can’t be a democracy if it discriminates against some of its citizens on the basis of their race or religion. In Israel, Christians and Muslims are treated differently than Jews.
That is what Che’s satire was trying to address: The fact that Israel insists it embraces human rights, but its policies say otherwise. Israel has carefully created two sets of laws and policies, one for its Jewish citizens and another for the non-Jews. I have previously written about those 65-plus discriminatory laws that are outlined in detail by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
“The discrimination in these laws is either explicit — ‘discrimination on its face’ — or, more often, the laws are worded in a seemingly neutral manner, but have or will likely have a disparate impact on Palestinians in their implementation,” Adalah states on its website. “These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention. Some of the laws also discriminate against other groups.”
It is thanks to these discriminatory laws that families like my own, which is from Jerusalem, are denied basic and fundamental property rights. However, thanks to Che’s satire, we can now talk about the reality of the situation for non-Jews inside Israel and under occupation.
Che is not anti-Semitic and he does not owe anyone an apology. He has raised an important issue, using humor to help the public better understand complicated issues that are twisted and distorted by false stereotypes. His satire shone a spotlight on an important issue that needs to be discussed without demonizing people. He raises an important point that the pro-Israel groups want to avoid.
Someone needs to answer the real questions: Why and how is discrimination impacting people in Israel, and why is Israel concerned for the health of the settlers who live in the Occupied Territories, but not their Palestinian neighbors?