“Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population,” comedian Michael Che quipped on this week’s Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live. “I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”
Cue the outrage: In email chains and on WhatsApp groups, on Twitter and in frantic text messages, the Jews reacted—expressing anger (“can you believe they would air such an offensive joke on TV? Jews shouldn’t be conflated with Israel!”), sharing irrelevant facts (“actually, 43% of Israel’s Arabs have already been vaccinated, too!”), and, my favorite, Sternly Demanding Apologies™: “Your ‘joke’ is ignorant—the fact is that the success of our vaccination drive is exactly because every citizen of Israel—Jewish, Muslim, Christian—is entitled to it. Apologize!”
Friends, we’ve got to stop this. Che’s joke wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t something someone accidentally let air on a decadeslong television show with a cast and crew in the hundreds. It wasn’t even new for him. Was the line anti-Semitic? Yep. Was it also absolutely intended? You betcha.
If you’re one of the good folk upset by this joke, I’m going to guess that at least some of the following statements are also true about you: You’re furious about the anti-Israel bent in The New York Times and wonder what can be done to make the paper of record “correct its bias”; you can’t believe how mired in political correctness our culture has gotten; you think we should spend a lot of time and resources fighting BDS on college campuses; you don’t fully understand why and how what you may call “the woke” or “the radical left” got so loud and so influential, but you think it’s very important and very possible for reasonable people to get together and beat back the tide.
Me? I prefer my wolves in wolves’ clothing. If anti-Semitism is essential to the ideology of today’s left—and it is—then it is essential that we see it clearly. Keeping ourselves under illusions is ... Well, let’s just say, that has never been a winning strategy for Jews.
So, while I’m sorry to be the bearer of grim news, let’s recap a few things: There’s no “Democratic Party” that may have a few radical kooks like Ilhan Omar but is really a solid bastion for good liberals. There’s no “Republican Party” that may have been hijacked by bad man Trump but is really a fortress of principled conservatism. We no longer have institutions—like television networks or newspapers or universities or political parties—that respond to anything approximating reasonable persuasion. There’s no point in trying to argue with, apply pressure on, or rebuke the likes of Michael Che, because the likes of Michael Che actually do hate you, and they’ve been telling you they hate you for quite some time now.
Sadly, too many of us hear “I hate you” and translate it into “let’s talk about this,” which is why so many smart Jews who ought to know better still spend so much time parsing the nonexistent differences between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, say, or rushing to qualify their support for Israel with some sharp words about Bibi Netanyahu. It’s why the ADL sidles up to Al Sharpton, America’s most prominent pogromist, and why the JCRC in New York cheered on the comically inept Mayor Bill de Blasio when he basically blamed the Jews for spreading COVID-19. Again and again and again, we see those calling themselves our communal or intellectual or moral leaders engage in this kind of insufferable sophistry, trying to find shades of gray even in the most pronounced streaks of black and white.
Again and again and again, reality stands up and slaps them in the face.
If, by contrast, you’re a normal human being with even an ounce of self-esteem and don’t have any fetishes involving pain and humiliation, you can join me and step right out: out of pretending like the Michael Ches of the world are anything but rank bigots, out of engaging with the drivel they create and call culture, out of the institutions they’ve hijacked and then crashed into the towers of our civilization.
What should we do instead? Build new things, I’d say—whatever can produce an alternate, saner, more sustaining reality in which we don’t spend our time fretting about hateful people doing hateful things to us, over and over, in perfectly predictable ways.
But no one can build anything with blinders on. The first step is to, as a wise woman said in these pages, stop being shocked. And stop letting others be shocked too. Next time (and there will be a next time, very soon), be the person in your WhatsApp group to puncture everyone else’s surprise. Be the one to catapult others out of the paralysis of constant outrage and into forward-oriented action. Rome, after that visit from the Visigoths, was never the same again, but the values that made it great in the first place lived on elsewhere—nurtured by men and women who had few illusions about the horde’s true intentions. Our Rome has been sacked; it’s a pity. Time to move on: The future is too bright to miss.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.