Addressing Anti-Semitism in the Media
Anti-Semitism in the media must be addressed just as any other form of discrimination would be.
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As activism against discrimination becomes more mainstream, many forms of media are being reevaluated for racist, sexist, homophobic, and other discriminatory undertones. However, for every TikTok, Tweet, and comment made online that is “canceled” for being discriminatory, an anti-Semitic piece of media slides under the radar of most non-Jewish activists.
A recent anti-Semitic joke in mainstream media was aired by NBC as part of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” Hosted by Michael Che, a segment of this episode featured a discussion of Israeli COVID-19 vaccination efforts, which are setting a precedent for effective and quick distribution of vaccines. During the segment, Che quipped, “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”
Though this comment might seem harmless, it plays into age-old anti-Semitic tropes. Since the Middle Ages, Jews have been consistently accused of being more loyal to each other than to the country that they reside in. This notion of dual loyalty began largely due to the prevalence of Christianity during that time and continued to fester in Europe as the Jewish population grew. Napoleon only agreed to grant the Jews full equality after the French Revolution if they stopped considering themselves “a nation within a nation,” and the Nazis used the claim that Jews betrayed their country in order to initiate their plan to exterminate the Jewish people.
And now, we see centuries of anti-Semitism manifesting in Che’s quote. Though Israel is a majority Jewish state, 21 percent of Israel’s nine million population consider themselves to be Arabs. These Israeli Arabs can vote and enlist in the Israeli army if they wish. The nation of Israel is made up of both Jews and Arabs, but by referring to those vaccinated as the “Jewish half,” Che is playing into the idea that Jews will always be more loyal to themselves.
Additionally, The New York Times, considered to be a more liberal newspaper, published an anti-Semitic cartoon that features a blind, skullcap-clad President Trump being led along by a caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wears a dog collar with a Jewish star around his neck. This work immediately evokes the trope of Jewish control. Jewish people have been accused of controlling the media and politics in many countries around the world and have been painted as “puppet masters” who manipulate politicians and journalists behind the scenes. Though The New York Times later apologized for the cartoon, the damage had already been done.
Though The New York Times and Che are not inherently anti-Semitic, these types of jokes and comments are not recognized as harmful simply because anti-Semitism is so rarely addressed by non-Jewish activists. So often, anti-Semitism is masked under the guise of being anti-Zionist or anti-Israel and therefore accepted and parroted by more left-leaning individuals. Politicians like Ilhan Omar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota who has a history of being vocally anti-Israel, often cross this line. Omar tweeted in 2012, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Masquerading as an anti-Israeli sentiment, this quote plays into stereotypes that Jews control the world and the media. This instance is only one of the many questionable tweets that Omar has tweeted, and she is far from the only left-leaning politician to do so.
It is perfectly acceptable to hold the Israeli government accountable for its actions as long as you hold it to the same standards as you would any other government. However, the second that you deny the right of Israel to exist, ask Jews their opinion on the conflict as soon as you hear that they are Jewish, or blame Israeli citizens for the actions of the Israeli government, you are being anti-Semitic. Zionism at its roots is simply a movement for a Jewish state so that a people that has faced persecution and oppression for centuries can have a home in a land where they are archaeologically proven to have lived. This movement is not saying that Palestinians do not also have a claim to the land, but it is essential to recognize that attempting to deny an entire people their country on the basis of their religion is incredibly anti-Semitic.
To prevent further occurrences of anti-Semitism in the media, the non-Jewish community must make an effort to advocate against anti-Semitism, just as they would with any other group. We must call out anti-Semitism when we see it and take a stand against it to put an end to discrimination of all forms.