Dave Chappelle both condemns and excuses anti-Semitism in SNL appearance

Yair Rosenberg is one of my favorite writers of today. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic magazine, which describes his specialty as examining “the intersection of politics, culture, and religion.”

He is most prescient when he writes about anti-Semitism which is, sadly and scarily, having a comeback around the world, but particularly from American MAGA politics, QAnon-fueled conspiracies, and certain Black television music and sports stars.

In a piece this week, Rosenberg takes up the appearance of Dave Chappelle on Saturday Night Live, during which the multimillionaire comedian, who styles himself as oppressed by wokeness, managed to both make fun of anti-Semitism and excuse it in the name of free speech.

Rosenberg is not having it:

As I watched Dave Chappelle’s much-discussed Saturday Night Live monologue poking fun at recent anti-Semitic incidents involving Black celebrities, I finally figured out why I no longer felt comfortable cracking jokes about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

In his 15-minute appearance, Chappelle, a habitual line-stepper, deliberately mocked the presumptions of both anti-Semites and their critics, with little concern for where the chips fell. He closed his potent performance with a pronouncement: “It shouldn’t be this scary to talk about anything. It’s making my job incredibly difficult, and to be honest with you, I’m getting sick of talking to a crowd like this. I love you to death, and I thank you for your support, and I hope they don’t take anything away from me—whoever they are.” In context, this felt like a cheap but clever attempt to immunize himself against criticism—say nothing, and his comedic choices go unchallenged; say something, and you’ve proved him right.

Rosenberg goes on to say:

And this is what I realized as I watched Chappelle’s monologue: When so many people have proved so susceptible to the conspiracism that animates anti-Semitism, it becomes harder and harder to laugh about it. Comedy cannot be divorced from its context. Jokes assume a shared set of presuppositions between the comedian and the audience, which are subverted for ironic effect. But when that collective context is called into question, and one no longer knows whether everyone in the room is operating from the same premises, what was once satire becomes suspect. After all, the best parody is often indistinguishable from the thing itself—the perfect impressionist is the one who sounds exactly like Donald Trump. But when the performance is anti-Semitism, and so much of society seems in thrall to its essential elements, it’s not clear whether the bit is setting up a punch line—or just a punch.

There’s a lot of good stuff in the rest of the piece. It’s worth your time to read it.

Chappelle on Saturday Night Live.

Ken Burns documentary on the U.S. and the Holocaust debuts on Sunday

Here’s a new documentary I’ll be sure to watch:

A good documentary about a well-known historical epoch reaffirms what we knew. A great one reaffirms what we knew but, through relentless and surprising detail, makes the history new and relevant. The U.S. and the Holocaust, the new three-part documentary from Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, makes the story of American reluctance to help the Jews bracingly new—and chillingly relevant.

The film, which debuts Sunday night on PBS, was born as part of a joint project with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It gives not only an honest assessment of the ways that President Franklin D. Roosevelt could have done more—but a frankly brutal look at a country that was deeply and relentlessly racist, jingoistic, and antisemitic. And it could not plead ignorance.

“We did know what was going on,” Burns says, noting that in 1933 alone, there were 30,000 newspaper articles sounding various alarms about what the Nazis were doing in Germany. But the American public of this documentary was not merely indifferent to Jewish suffering; it mostly thought they brought it upon themselves. “This is part of who we are too,” says Novick.

Burns and Novick go on to note in the video below about the chilling parallels between what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and what has been happening America at the time they were making this new documentary.

And just in case you thought the filmmakers view all this as ancient history, the film concludes with a sound-bite from Donald J. Trump and a montage of footage from Charlottesville and the insurrection of January 6, 2021. “It’s been frightening … to be working [on] this film and be immersed in that time period while these things were happening around us,” said Novick. We will all find out soon enough just how much history we’ve learned.

Some polls suggest that, as the generations which actually lived through the Holocaust die off, younger people — even many younger Jews — do not see the lessons of the Holocaust as readily as they might have otherwise having been around, say, grandparents with concentration camp numbers tattooed on their forearms.

Let’s hope documentaries such as this one help keep the horror alive and relevant.

I’m never shocked to find out any person is anti-Semitic

Anti-Semitism is one of those bigotries that is both widespread yet often runs under-the-radar in many people — until it doesn’t. Even in people who wouldn’t normally think of themselves as being anti-Semitic, it can rear itself when given half a chance. Usually it’s because someone Jewish — a banker, a lawyer, a boss, a co-worker — has done something underhanded that is then ascribed to their Jewishness. Catholics and Protestants as a whole are never made to answer for Catholic or Protestant bankers who are greedy and shifty.

Then there are the anti-Semites like Michael Bivens, a journalist who was discovered to be a hater because he confessed it to the wrong people:

A journalist who covered the 2020 Antifa and Proud Boy violence in Portland was arrested and charged with vandalizing synagogues and trying to set fire to a mosque.

34-year-old Michael Bivins was arrested on Saturday after he approached a TV station in Beaverton, just outside Portland, “where he demanded to speak to a reporter,” Portland police said. The station, KPTV, reported that Bivins confessed to reporters, who then called the police.

A station employee also told Oregon Public Broadcasting that Bivins was making anti-Semitic remarks.

Bivins was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, third-degree criminal mischief, and first-degree arson.

The vandalism occurred at three synagogues and the arson at the mosque. Bivins allegedly broke a window at a synagogue, Congregation Shir Tikvah in northeast Portland, on April 30 and, on May 2 and May 4, respectively, put graffiti and threw a rock through a window, at another synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, in northwest Portland. He allegedly set fire to the mosque, the Muslim Community Center of Portland.

I’ve read through some of Bevins’ articles and I see no red flags. Which only goes to show that you never can tell with anti-Semitism.