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Dear David Chappelle, This is NO laughing matter

Dave Chapelle may not really be an antisemite but his new Netflix special contains some very antisemitic material.

What Chapelle may think are harmless jokes – about Jews coming from outer space to control the earth, about them taking land that is not rightfully theirs, and about them experiencing horrors and then perpetuating those same horrors on others – actually reinforce a number of dangerous anti-Jewish tropes.


To be fair, Chapelle makes fun of everyone, and part of what makes him special is that his humor often crosses lines. But jokes like these are different: The ideas behind them have led to innocent people getting killed throughout history, and as an influential public figure Chapelle needs to really be more careful.

Chapelle is probably not an avid student of Jewish suffering, and antisemitism is notoriously hard to define because it is a mutating virus whose focus can shift radically over time. But in terms of its perfidious process, one of the rare unifying themes that emerge from the annals of Jew-hatred is the antisemites’ consistent attempt at the dehumanization of the Jewish people. Whether Jews are portrayed as malevolently superhuman, as in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or as worthlessly subhuman, as in the Nazi ideology, antisemites throughout history have found that it is easier to despise and eventually kill that which they do not consider human.

Chapelle may not have known this, but pretending that Jews are aliens and not regular human beings has been one of the deadliest and most dangerous ideas in the history of the world.  In many ways, it contributed significantly to what Professor Dan Diner has described as a complete “rupture in civilization”- the Nazi genocide of some six million Jews during World War II. Which makes Chapelle’s other Jewish “joke” even more painful to hear. Holocaust inversion, i.e. pretending that Israel behaves towards the Palestinians as Germany behaved towards the Jews in WWII- is a sickening lie that denies the severity of what happened by minimizing an unparalleled genocide, and delegitimizes the Jewish state by distorting and demonizing its actions.

To be clear – no matter where you stand on the issue there is no comparison whatsoever between the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The notion that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians is nothing more than a baseless and unimaginative update on the blood libel. It is also definitionally ridiculous – the kind of thing that Chapelle himself might otherwise find funny: Per the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocidal acts are “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”

Since Israel’s independence in 1948, the Palestinian population has actually grown at an average annual rate of 3.4% – much higher than the average world population growth. Since 1967, the Palestinian Arab population has increased by 387%. If Israel were attempting genocide, they would be historically, awfully, bad at it. But they aren’t.

Chapelle may not have known this when he made his alien conquest joke, but Jewish people have also been consistently ‘othered’ in more insidious, subtle ways. For example, in America, Jews were considered non-white at times when whites were being privileged, and today they are often told that they are privileged whites when they demand recognition of their struggles. And, as James Wald has noted, “In the past Jews were rendered alien to the West by being orientalized. Today, Jews are rendered alien to the Middle East by being redefined as European.”

Chapelle probably did not know that the Jewish people have actually had a continuous presence in their own ancestral homeland for almost 4,000 years. Maybe he is also unaware that despite their demonstrable historical and legal claims, Israel has consistently (over 30 times) tried to make peace and divide the land in an equitable fashion, only to be continuously rebuffed. But those are some serious topics, and he should have done just a little bit of research.

You can be all for Palestinian rights, and all for criticizing the Jewish State. But Jews are not from outer space; they are indigenous to Israel; and they are not committing genocide.

Chappelle may be the funniest human being on this planet. But with that power comes responsibility, and these new jokes are irresponsible. He can and should do better.

(Dr. Mark Goldfeder is the Director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center)

{reposted from the IsraelHayom site}


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