News from February 22 to February 28

Vaccine diplomacy, antisemitism allegations against NBC, and honorable mentions

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Israel announces, then suspends vaccine diplomacy:

What happened? Last week, Israel announced it would ship thousands of its vaccine doses to friendly countries as a gesture of goodwill. Television reports suggested that Guatemala, Honduras, and the Czech Republic–all countries that recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to some degree–would be the first countries to receive the doses, and the Guatemalan President’s plane had even been spotted at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. Later, Israeli media reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only intended to provide a few thousand vaccines to the initial three countries, but about 100,000 doses to friendly countries in Africa, Central America, and Europe. 

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammatei expressing appreciation for Israel’s COVID vaccine donations.

Has Israel already vaccinated its entire population? While Israel is a global leader in vaccinations, it has not yet fully vaccinated its population. So far, Israel has used over seven million of the ten million doses it ordered from Pfizer, but Netanyahu told reporters that Israel would have enough vaccines for all of its citizens. The international shipments, he said, were “mostly symbolic” and would not interfere with Israel’s vaccination campaign.

Are Israelis happy with Netanyahu’s “vaccine diplomacy?” As you might imagine, some Israelis were predictably upset when they found out Netanyahu was giving away doses before Israel had fully vaccinated its population. Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that “the fact that Netanyahu trades in vaccines of Israeli citizens that were paid for from their tax money without any accountability shows that he thinks he is running a kingdom and not a state.”

Wait, what about the Palestinians? While Netanyahu planned to ship vaccines around the world, Palestinians were left wondering if their closest neighbors would assist them. At the same time that Netanyahu announced the global shipments, he announced that Israel would provide some vaccines to the Palestinian Authority. Yet, the Palestinian Authority, which administers a population of over four million, is only set to receive 5,000 doses from Israel and 10,000 doses from Russia. Hamas, which rules Gaza’s nearly two million people, will receive 20,000 doses from the UAE. Later in the week, Israel announced that it would vaccinate the almost 130,000 Palestinians who work in Israel or its settlements. Still, many–including Senator Bernie Sanders–have suggested Israel should be doing more to vaccinate the Palestinians who live under occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza. 

The headline said Israel suspended its plans. What happened? Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit paused the vaccine transfers because Netanyahu may not have the legal authority to unilaterally re-direct vaccine supplies. Interestingly, one of the requests for the transfer suspension reportedly came from Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Advisor a close confidant of Netanyahu. Gantz hailed the suspension, saying, “If there is a reason to transfer vaccines to various countries at the expense of Israeli citizens, this will only be decided in the relevant forums. Making decisions in the dark raises concerns of harming the state’s foreign relations and security.”

Anything else? Israel announced that it would be vaccinating all of the United States-led, 14-nation Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) Sinai peacekeeping force. Most of the peacekeepers are from the United States and Fiji.

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NBC pulls episode of Nurses after accusations of antisemitism:

What happened? Earlier this week, the NBC show Nurses aired an episode that featured an antisemitic representation of Orthodox Jews. In the clip, a doctor tells a wounded Orthodox Jew that he will not walk properly again unless he accepts a bone graft from a recently deceased person. The Orthodox Jewish character’s father then says, “A dead goyim leg? From anyone? An Arab? A woman?” The injured character proceeds to decline the bone graft, citing religious reasons (which are not true). In response to the accusations, NBC has canceled all future airings of the episode. You can watch the clip here:

What have people been saying?

The Simon Wiesenthal Center: “The writers of this scene check all the boxes of ignorance and pernicious negative stereotypes, right down to the name of the patient, Israel – paiyous and all. 

“Overreaction? Orthodox Jews are targeted for violent hate crimes – in the city of New York, Jews are number one target of hate crimes in US; this is no slip of the tongue. It was a vile, cheap attack masquerading as TV drama. What’s NBC going to do about it?” 

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt: “The portrayal of a Hasidic Jew making hateful remakes about ‘an Arab, a woman’ is gratuitous and inflammatory, and only validates longstanding antisemitic stereotypes. Additionally, the episode’s entire premise is wrong. In Jewish law, anything that is potentially lifesaving or health-preserving is not only permitted but indeed mandated. Unfortunately, myths about Jewish religious beliefs and practices are far too commonplace, and this episode only serves to amplify such longstanding misperceptions about Jews. We have reached out to NBC executives and have requested that they pull the episode and review their standards for approaching dramatic content so that this doesn’t happen in the future.”

Canadian Studio Entertainment One (The studio that produced the show): “It’s important that we address the recent feedback we’ve received related to the portrayal of Jewish beliefs in the 'Achilles Heel' episode of our series Nurses. We take matters of this nature very seriously and deeply regret all inaccuracies related to religious beliefs as well as the negative portrayal of any religious community in our content, characters and storylines. We sincerely apologize to the Jewish community, our viewers and series fans, and are working to understand what transpired and ensure our research practices are exhaustive moving forward and lead only to well-informed storylines.”

I heard something about Saturday Night Live. What was that about? During last week’s “Weekend Update” segment of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, host Michael Che joked that Israel was prioritizing its Jewish population over its non-Jewish population for COVID-19 vaccinations. Watch the segment here:

Many Jewish organizations criticized the joke as antisemitic, though some said that the joke was based on truth. Here are a few reactions:

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt: “Saturday Night Live's 'Weekend Update' is known for sharp criticism and public takedowns, but Saturday's deeply offensive joke about Israel's Covid-19 vaccination process not only missed the mark, but crossed the line - basing the premise of the joke on factual inaccuracies and playing into an anti-Semitic trope in the process. Unfortunately, ADL has tracked multiple Weekend Update jokes this season that inappropriately use Jews as the punchline. I know they can do better. In that spirit, I reached out to Lorne Michaels over the weekend urging Saturday Night Live to take action both to repair the damage that's been done and ensure that this does not happen again.”

Jewish Voice for Peace: “They say there’s a grain of truth to every joke, but this SNL one has 5 million — the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who have yet to receive vaccines.”

American Jewish Committee: “Saturday Night Live's 'joke' isn't just untrue - it's dangerous, a modern twist on a classic anti-Semitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of countless Jews throughout the centuries. In the Middle Ages, thousands of Jews were burnt at the stake after being blamed for the Black Death and accused of protecting only themselves. In the 20th century, the Nazis accused Jews of spreading disease and seized on that falsehood to justify imprisoning Jews in ghettos and carrying out the mass murder of European Jewry. Words have consequences, and Jews are at risk when a major American TV company joins with those who claim Israel is favoring only a portion of its citizens in its admirable efforts, praised by Dr Anthony Fauci and others, to vaccinate all its residents.”

Also, here’s an interesting piece on what Jewish comedians thought about the joke.

Further reading:

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Honorable Mentions:

Israel’s entry ban on citizens ‘unparalleled in democratic world,’ watchdog says” by Raoul Wootliff (Times of Israel) (The entry ban has political ramifications as opposition parties have accused Netanyahu of manipulating the COVID restrictions to only allow his likely voters to re-enter Israel. However, the entrance policy may change soon to allow all Israelis to enter. This is a big story to keep an eye on)

CPAC cancels speaker who said Judaism is a ‘complete lie’” by Ben Sales (JTA) (CPAC is the Conservative Political Action Conference)

Sacha Baron Cohen wins his 2nd Golden Globe for playing Borat” by Brendan Morrow (The Week)

‘Jewish ideas poison people,’ State Department official writes on Christian nationalist blog” by Asaf Shalev (JTA)

Explosion hits Israeli-owned cargo ship in Gulf of Oman, no injuries” by John Gambrell and Isabel Debre (Times Of Israel) (Israel is expected to retaliate, so keep an eye out. Netanyahu has already named Iran the culprit.)

Gantz secretly met Jordan's King Abdullah - report” (Jerusalem Post)

Some articles on the NYC Mayoral Race:

Who’s in Scott Stringer’s eruv?” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)

Yang pressed again on BDS opposition at Muslim mayoral forum” by Madina Touré (Politico)

The evolution of Eric Adams” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)

Leading NYC mayoral candidates oppose BDS, would visit Israel” by Jacob Kornbluh (Forward) (This is a couple of weeks old, but it includes information on nearly all the other major candidates, including Maya Wiley, Shaun Donovan, and Ray McGuire)

Bonus-Check out my hamantaschen (chocolate, apple pie, and raspberry)! It was a great recipe by Jake Cohen. You can pre-order his new cookbook, “Jew-ish,” here

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