One side only

Man with map behind him

On Satuday Night Live on 20 February, Michael Che made a short joke about Israel’s discriminatory COVID-19 vaccine policy.

Timothy Bella at The Washington Post has written a news article partially summarizing the controversy over Michael Che’s Saturday Night Live joke highlighting Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine apartheid.

“Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half,” Che quipped in the SNL skit.

The “joke” works because Israel has vaccinated Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank while discriminating against millions of Palestinians in the same area, contrary to its obligations under international law.

Simply saying something is anti-Semitic, as Che’s critics do, cannot be allowed to become an acceptable means for obscuring anti-Palestinian discrimination.

Sadly, Bella makes the situation worse by failing to quote a single Palestinian.

The closest he comes is to link to a Katie Halper tweet regarding her interview of my colleague Ali Abunimah on the subject.

To be fair, Bella does note “human rights groups have argued Israel has a moral and legal obligation to give access to vaccines to the roughly 5 million Palestinians living in territories the country controls,” as reported by Post colleagues.

But human rights groups are not an adequate stand-in for Palestinian analysts pushing back directly on the Che controversy.

By contrast, Bella does not have any problem with quoting Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, and a petition from the American Jewish Committee. All represent the Israel lobby or Israel itself.

Excluding Palestinians

This sort of exclusion of Palestinian voices, also witnessed in Bella’s tweet about his article, is a form of discrimination that has persisted for far too long in American journalism. Worse, it reinforces the apartheid reality Israel has constructed.

Palestinians should be provided space to make their case and not relegated to a link to a tweet where readers can then click on a podcast for further details. Ironically, in the interview with Halper, Ali mentions how MSNBC and CNN don’t invite him on their programs.

He’s been frozen out in the same way that CNN’s Jake Tapper has discarded a prominent East Coast Palestinian.

Mainstream journalists have to examine more closely their anti-Palestinian bias, and ombudsmen, where they still exist, have an obligation to raise questions in their news organizations.

Bella’s quoting of Erdan is also striking. Ruth Eglash, Bella’s former colleague at The Washington Post, is senior communications adviser to Erdan, who is both Israel’s ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations.

That connection is left unmentioned in the article as is the fact that Erdan previously was minister of strategic affairs and led the fight against equal rights for Palestinians by targeting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

I raised concerns about Eglash’s job change late last year.

A collegial connection may or may not have been at play in this article. Bella has not responded to an inquiry from The Electronic Intifada about any communication he had with Eglash or to a question about the exclusion of Palestinian voices.

Missed points

Had Bella spent more time with Ali’s commentary on the subject, he would have known it was insufficient to write that “Israeli officials have cited the Oslo Accords in arguing that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are responsible for their own health systems.”

As reported by my colleague Omar Karmi and by Ali more recently, “Israel’s refusal to supply vaccines to Palestinians is a flagrant violation of its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. As the occupying power, it must ensure the health and hygiene of the civilian population it occupies.”

Strikingly, Israel lobby groups have so far dropped the ball in failing to criticize the map provided of the region by SNL. The occupied Golan Heights are quite rightly not included as sovereign Israeli territory.

For apologists for Israeli expansionism this surely should constitute an egregious failing by SNL to note the full extent of Israel’s territorial conquest. Notably, the violation of international law was signed off on by the anti-Semitic Donald Trump himself – while president of the United States.

Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians and Arabs is going to continue to be fodder for comedians and informed commentators. Whitewashing pushback of the sort we’re currently witnessing from the Israel lobby and representatives of the Israeli government should raise further questions about the reality of anti-Palestinian discrimination by Israel.

That underlying truth, the apartheid reality, is harder to get at when Palestinians don’t even get a seat at the table.

But Che had a seat and a loud microphone. An apartheid government unaccustomed to having its racism noted to a wide American viewing audience should increasingly expect such criticism.




The argument against Israel being responsible for vaccinating all Palestinians in the Occupied Territory ("OT") is that Israel made a deal with the Palestinian Authority in the Oslo Accords that the PA would be responsible for health care in the OT. Thus, Israel bears no responsibility, it argues, notwithstanding that the 4th Geneva Convention says Israel as the Occupier is responsible.

But article 47 of the Convention states: "Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory."

So the Oslo Accords are irrelevant. Israel is responsible.

That is the same result reached by the Israeli Supreme Court in a case involving distribution of gas masks. Israel must provide masks to the Palestinians in the West Bank, the Court ruled, on an equal basis with its own citizens.


What is regarded as a "joke" is anything but humorous. What is fascinating is that the indoctrination of the American public by the Zionist propaganda has been so effective and pervasive is that the reality of the suffering of the Palestinian people is lost in an argument which reduces the focus to what constitutes antisemitism. The true nature of the suffering of Palestinians, their systematic genocide by Israel, the ongoing war crimes and atrocities are completely overlooked. This highlights the extent of ignorance of the general public with the realities of the war crimes and suffering of Palestinians. The misinformation fed by the propaganda industry through corporate sponsored mainstream media is in itself an evil.


Frozen out? The limits of debate are impossibly narrow. We face a climate catastrophe, yet the debate goes little further than how fast will the electric cars go? That we have very nearly made the planet uninhabitable, and will do if we don't stop, is an argument too far because it illustrates that humanity has taken a wrong turn. This is not a matter of nuances about taxation or public spending, it's about a world order founded on errors. And the Palestinians are the victims of that world order and its history. Hence, the nervousness about open debate. The world system, resting as it does on the antipathy of property towards poverty can't permit a free flow of argument. People's experience is too likely to make them critical. The people's malcontentedness has to be side-lined, supressed, driven into destructive channels so you get event like the attack on the Capitol by people who know something is wrong, but have had their ideas twisted by demagogues. The voices we get to hear come from a very narrow band of ideological conformity. And the system works night and day to ensure it stays that way. Of course, one day, when Palestine is free people will look back on this and wonder what the fuss was about and the liberal opinion of that future era will airily claim it could never have sided with the racists and oppressors. Twas ever thus. It's always a small minority fighting for change and justice and their efforts are always appropriated by the conformists of future eras. That's how it is. On we go. But we will win because the desire for fairness, for equity, for justice, for human sympathy can't be erased. It is our inheritance.

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.