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‘SNL’ cracks about man ‘so blinded by devotion to Israel he ignores all reason’

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Saturday Night Live had a bit last Saturday where they mentioned Jewish alienation from Israel. Actress Vanessa Bayer has a character called Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, a selfconscious wanna-be grownup. Jacob gives a Passover speech and at the end thanks a list of people who’ve helped him, and it’s all personal till he gets to “my uncle Simon even though my dad says he is so blinded by his devotion to Israel that he ignores all reason.” The line got a pretty good laugh. At 2:40 in the video below, next to comic/writer Michael Che.

SNL is parsimonious about its Israel humor. You’ll recall that in 2013 when Chuck Hagel had his hearing to be Defense Secretary, SNL prepared a sketch called Fellating the Donkey, in which a senator challenged Hagel, would you be willing to fellate a donkey for Israel. That bit did not air, though it was published online, and the Anti-Defamation League went apesh*t about it.

Vanessa Bayer is Jewish and knows the territory. The Forward found the Vanessa Bayer sketch delightful though it didn’t mention the Israel bit. Here is Bayer telling Rolling Stone about that character four years ago.

The town I grew up in was at least fifty percent Jewish, so every weekend in the 7th grade, we went to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. It’s kind of based on that…

When I started doing standup in college, I just started doing that character. My first year on the show, one of the writers wrote me into a sketch where I played a Bar Mitzvah boy and I got to do it, which was so cool. . . but the whole thing started in my standup. I felt like I had seen that boy so much, and it’s so fun to play that little awkward boy who likes to tell dad-style jokes.

It’s one of my favorite characters. It just seems very familiar. It’s so funny that a little boy that age has to be so formal for an entire weekend.

In our world, which is a little mirror of Middle East that can fit in a spoon, this counts as a big victory. No, it’s not very much. But such is American culture.

Thanks to Annie Robbins and Russell Khater, for the spot.


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10 Responses

  1. jd65
    April 23, 2017, 12:46 pm

    Not bad. But if we’re talking about SNL crackin’ wise about Palestine and maybe gettin’ in Israel’s/America’s face a little, the above SNL news clip is nothing compared to Louis CK’s monologue a while back (Palestine always getting screwed, America arming Israel and essentially saying do whatever you like…). I assume you all have seen it, but just in case check it below. The bit on Israel/Palestine starts at 2:56, but I’d say just check out the whole monologue ‘cuz Louis kills it:

  2. Ismail
    April 23, 2017, 5:26 pm

    I don’t read the Louis CK bit the same way that you do, jd65.

    The overarching metaphor of the bit reinforces the most damaging trope in mainstream discourse about P/I, namely, that the two parties are engaged in an endless, almost genetic round of squabbling, something that defies analysis – it’s just in their bones. This is the ahistorical, no-one’s-to-blame fairy tale that underlies the Received Wisdom about the middle east in the US.

    And the collusion with Israel – “here, just let the crazy one rant, if you do, I’ll placate you with a missile” – doesn’t seem to me to be presented as critique. If it is, the critical part is outweighed by the tacit normalizing of the status quo; the Palestinians are crazy infants, you and I are the mature ones and are capable of negotiation, let’s work this out between us….

    To tell you the truth, I think the Vanessa Bayer comment was more disruptive to mainstream perspective than Louis’ was.

    • jd65
      April 24, 2017, 11:56 am

      I hear you Ismail (and everyone else here who commented similarly). Particularly the false equivalence of the two parties. Yes, for some of the bit Louis does fall into that bullshit trope.

      However, there’s a lot of reasons I think Louis CK’s bit had a lot more balls to it than the Weekend Update thing. The first, and most obvious thing, is that Vanessa Bayer “bit,” as relates to Israel (and only mentioning Israel), is a single line that lasts 5 seconds. And it’s completely decontextualized from Palestine. Sure, all of us here at MW immediately think of the implications re: Palestine/Zionist crimes, etc… But I think it’s quite possible that many who saw/heard that chuckled, didn’t know why, and didn’t think about Palestine/Palestinians for a second: “Hardy har. Israel. Jews. They’re funny. A woman dressed as a boy. Yuck yuck. Is it time for bed yet?”

      While the Louis CK bit was 2 and 1/2 minutes. That’s 30 times longer. It also clearly contextualizes the bit as being about “the conflict.” It clearly talks about Palestinians specifically. Louis refers to his kid that represents Palestine as the one he “like[s] a little more,” while giving the kid who represents Israel a loud, rude, kinda bullying voice. And while, as I said before I agree w/ you that Louis does fall into the false equivalence trope here and there, there are other things in the bit that belie that idea. Surely when he says, “The little one is like Palestine because she always gets screwed. She gets the worst deals,” it goes against this idea of equivalence. Not to mention it completely contradicts all the pro-Israel B.S. about Israel making wildly generous offers to the Palestinians, etc etc… And he also contradicts the false equivalence when he says that he represents America, saying to Israel, “I’ll work it out. You and me. We’ll go out, I’ll buy you a really cool missile. Whatever you do with it is totally up to you.” And he’s saying those lines as America as if they’re under his breath; like America doesn’t want anyone to hear what it’s saying. Like it’s a secret.

      A 5 second, un-contextualized single line about Israel, or a 2 and a 1/2 minute long bit clearly about the conflict, that while occasionally falls into the false equivalence trap, also clearly shows Palestine as getting screwed (in that language) and Israel as being told by its parent that it can do whatever it wants w/ the missiles it’s being given re: Palestine. I’ll take Louis…

  3. Rooster
    April 23, 2017, 10:58 pm

    Yeah, I saw that monologue as well. Though he puts the Palestinian in the role of the weaker sister, it still fell into that liberal-zionisty cop out of violence equivalence, which, though refreshing for SNL, wasn’t really that much of a change. It was palatable for the Zionist crowd and not significantly challenging.

    But the Jacob sketch, while failing to use the “P” word, seems to lay blame squarely on the shoulders of those “blinded by devotion to Israel” and then “ignore all reason.” Such a concept is new to this audience. Especially coming from a clearly devotedly Jewish character. So I would argue it represents a tiny but radical statement. Just enough that it gets aired.

    Louis CK did get some heat after that performance in February (?)2016, not so much for the Palestine equivalence (I’m sure he got some heat for that, but couldn’t find it). but for playing Jerusalem after it.

    He performed in Israel reportedly because he mismanaged his funds by singlehandedly financing a web series, “Horace & Pete” that went over like a lead balloon, and announcing the performance on the odious Howard Stern show:

    On his performance in Jerusalem that August 2016 despite boycott:
    “he won over any doubters by remarking, carefully, in response to those who’d said he shouldn’t come to Israel because “we’re mad at them,” that if he didn’t play in countries that had ever inflicted harm on anyone, he wouldn’t play in America”

    So that’s Louis CK.

    • Maghlawatan
      April 24, 2017, 2:16 am

      The way he presented the Palestine situation was as a law of nature, that is just the way it is. And that is how Israelis see it. And when at some time in the future the tables are turned and Jews get the Gaza treatment, how will people respond? The Zionist resort to violence has consequences that will reverberate through time.

    • eljay
      April 24, 2017, 7:34 am

      || Rooster: Yeah, I saw that monologue as well. Though he puts the Palestinian in the role of the weaker sister, it still fell into that liberal-zionisty cop out of violence equivalence, which, though refreshing for SNL, wasn’t really that much of a change. It was palatable for the Zionist crowd and not significantly challenging. … ||

      I agree. What initially seems edgy ends up being a fairly Zionism-friendly story:
      – I-P is about two sides equally entitled to a territory.
      – Israel may be a bully, but Palestinians are nuts.
      – The U.S. sides with the bully, but who wouldn’t when faced with crazy?

  4. Rooster
    April 23, 2017, 11:18 pm

    One last thing: I want to emphasize the importance that this comment on the sketch came from a devoted Jewish character: it presupposes that Judaism and Zionism are separate.

    That’s big.

    • MHughes976
      April 24, 2017, 10:05 am

      Not sure it’s that big, Rooster. It presupposes that Judaism and Zionism are separable but accepts that they are very often conjoined. The link can look comical but meets with a sort of resigned acceptance from the worldly father of the gauche boy and implicitly from the comic script. It’s certainly not treated as a weakening force nor as a shameful one. Quite a realistic portrait of things as they are, things that sustain the mighty political commitment to Israel.

  5. captADKer
    April 24, 2017, 9:18 am

    is this all all you’ve got?

    “in our world, which is a little mirror of Middle East that can fit in a spoon, this counts as a big victory. No, it’s not very much.”

    no it’s not very much. a little spoon scraping the bottom of your little barrel for straws more likely.

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