Anti-Semitic?

02.11.13

‘SNL’ Lands in Hot Water With Anti-Defamation League Over Hagel Sketch

An unaired sketch, posted online by NBC, lampoons the Defense secretary nominee’s Senate grilling—and, the ADL’s Abraham Foxman tells Lloyd Grove, reinforces the notion that Israel controls the government.

An unaired sketch from the Feb. 9 Saturday Night Live, lampooning beleaguered Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing and the alleged influence of the pro-Israel lobby on the United States Senate, has prompted criticism from a group whose mission is fighting anti-Semitism.

Video screenshot

Watch the unaired SNL sketch.

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, slammed the sketch—which wasn’t part of the live show but was released online by NBC—for potentially perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes.

NBC and SNL offered no response on Monday to Foxman’s complaint and usually don’t comment on the frequent criticisms of SNL’s comedy.

In the six-minute sketch, performed at SNL’s dress rehearsal, Hagel (played deadpan by Jason Sudeikis is grilled mercilessly by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (a drawling Bill Hader) about his published statement that the interests of the United States and Israel are not always identical. “Is this a typo?” Graham/Hader demands. “Are my eyes deceiving me? Does he think that our interests and those of Israel could ever be different?” And so on and so forth, as Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee fall all over themselves to prove their slavish devotion to the Jewish state.

The sketch culminates when a crotchety “Sen. John McCain” insists that Hagel answer a hypothetical question: would he agree to “go on national television and perform oral sex on a donkey” if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu determined it was vital to Israel’s security? When Hagel says no, McCain declares that he can’t vote to confirm him.

“[T]here inevitably will be those who say, ‘Yeah, it’s funny, but there’s some truth to all of this,’” Foxman wrote in a letter Monday to SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels. “And for a smaller minority among those individuals, elements of the skit could play into the worst kind of ideas, even reinforcing pernicious notions of Jewish control of government in the vein of those routinely espoused by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites by suggesting that U.S. officials would even engage in public sex acts if asked to do so by Israel.”

It makes no difference that Lorne Michaels and many SNL writers and staffers happen to be Jewish, Foxman said: “That doesn’t excuse their insensitivity.”

Foxman was far blunter in an interview with The Daily Beast, calling the sketch “overdone and overdone and overdone. It focuses on the issue of Israel to such a ridiculous extreme that we do become concerned because there is a claim out there that America’s a tool of the Israelis.” He added: “It sort of reinforces the pernicious notion of Jewish control over this government ... that Israel controls the Senate.”

The ADL’s public opinion surveys “indicate that 30 percent of the American people believe that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States,” Foxman said. “That’s an anti-Semitic canard…The same percentage of people in the United States believe that the Jews killed Christ.”

Foxman—who in January raised concerns about Hagel’s past reference to “the Jewish lobby” and his positions on Israel and Iran—insisted: “We have a sense of humor and we understand that classic satire is where you poke fun.” But he suggested that SNL’s Hagel sketch should never have been staged—“How did it get this far?”—nor should it have been posted on the Internet.

It makes no difference, he said, that Michaels and many of the show’s writers and staffers happen to be Jewish. “That doesn’t excuse their insensitivity and their playing on stereotypes and selling stereotypes and forcing stereotypes,” he said.

Video screenshot

Watch the key moments from the actual Chuck Hagel Senate hearing.