Jon Stewart, meet me at Camera Three

Hey Jon, how you doin? No disrespect.

Oh, sorry – wrong ethnic group. Um, how about bagels, bubby and baruch atah? Better? Well, that is our common language. And we do have a lot in common – we both had major birthdays (I just turned 40, you just turned 50). We both have parents who are educational consultants. And of course there’s the Jewish thing.

And that’s exactly what’s bothering me. You see, like many members of my generation, I get much of my news by watching The Daily Show. Even though I now live in Israel, I make sure to watch your show over my lunch break, and so I know what people are talking about in the States. And I laugh – a lot. And even though I’m aware you’re a comedian, and not really a journalist, precisely by making fun of the politicians, and even more so by making fun of the media, you do an amazing job of separating the wheat from the chaff of the news. You help us all understand what’s fluff, what’s ridiculous – and almost by process of elimination, we can understand what the real issues are. Your attacks on the superficiality of much of the media is both hilarious and critical.

Except when it comes to one thing.

You see, for some reason, when it comes to Jewish issues, you turn off that filter. Now regarding Jewish life in America, I’ll admit it’s not so bad. It’s true you revert to tired Borscht Belt shtick (which isn’t honestly all that funny), but we’re mishpocha, so fine.  (Actually your candid Jewish bits are much funnier, keep those up). But when it comes to Israel, you actually become part of the problem that you work so hard to eliminate. You’re not interested in the intricacies of the conflict between the Arabs and Israel. We’ve all just been fighting forever, and could we please just be quiet already while you drive the car! The crimes of one side are equivalent to the injustices of the other side. Where’s the nuance? Where’s the understanding that just because the disputes can’t be rolled up into sound-bites that doesn’t mean they aren’t real, and they shouldn’t be given real attention in the media? Why not just make fun of the networks who themselves oversimplify the issues? Instead – you actually joke about how they’re paying too much attention to detail.

Now I’m guessing we don’t actually have the same views about many of the issues regarding Israel. And while I’d love for you to be out there taking apart many of the lies and myths promoted by the Arab side, I can respect you if you decide to criticize us instead. Certainly, we Jews are not known for agreeing about everything. But when you go out of your way to avoid taking any stand, you dumb it down so much that not only is it not productive, it’s not actually funny.

In your November 26th show, you said that  “this is such a depressing, cyclical status quo where the untenable underlying conditions are never addressed. There are no winners here.” But what’s so crazy about determining who benefits on each side? This isn’t a reality show. By simply labeling it “intractable bloodshed”, you’re saying there is no cause and no solution. But is that really the case? And if so – perhaps you’re helping fulfill your own prophecy?

This tendency of yours has also been noted by another funny, liberal, late night comedian who takes on the politicians and the media as well: Bill Maher. After your “Rally to Restore Sanity”, Bill criticized the obsession with “balance for balance’s sake”, and said that “if you truly wanted to come down on the side of restoring sanity and reason, you’d side with the sane and the reasonable, and not try to pretend that the insanity is equally distributed in both parties.” No truer words could be said about the Israel-Arab conflict as well.

And regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, look what Bill Maher said in an interview last month:

Hollywood Jew: Why are you more on the side of Israelis?


Bill Maher: Take this conflict; here, everyone in the newspapers, the pundits, they talk about it like it’s very complicated. It’s not that complicated: Stop firing rockets into Israel and perhaps they won’t annihilate you. I mean, it’s so crazy when you look at these images on TV. Ok, they just had a little war. It lasted a week like most Israeli wars do; the Israelis lost a handful of people, shot down most of the rockets, and the neighborhoods in Gaza are devastated. They’re rubble. They lost over 1,000 people and yet somehow Palestinians are celebrating in the streets? I don’t get this celebrating when you just totally got your ass kicked.


HJ: The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out that many in the media tend to point out the disproportionate casualty count between Israelis and Palestinians, and he wisely wondered if there is a moral difference between attempted murder and successful murder.


BM: It’s obvious that Israelis, in all of their battles with the Palestinians, show restraint. Because they have nuclear weapons. And if the situation was reversed, I don’t doubt for a second that Palestinians would fire them immediately. They’d use the maximum of what they have available and the Israelis don’t.


HJ: There was a big debate this week in the Jewish world that arose from a dispute between two rabbis about whether Judaism should be more universal and humane or more tribal and self interested. But it is widely felt that the Israeli army conducts itself with deep concern for the humanity of the people they are fighting.


BM: Let’s not forget the other side of this issue, which is, the Palestinians do have gripes, and most Israelis do not agree with the Netanyahu government on the settlement issue. [Israelis] want a two state solution. I don’t think anybody’s ever gonna be happy or the conflict will ever end before that happens and as many writers have pointed out, Israel faces the problem of becoming a minority Jewish state within their own country if they allow this to keep going. There has to be some solution. In a lot of ways, what we see in Israel is their government has been taken over by the equivalent of what would be the Tea Party in this country. If you talk to most people in Tel Aviv, I don’t think they’re for what the government is doing, but when it comes to self-defense — Obama himself said the other day: There’s just not another country in the world that would allow missiles to be rained down on them without fighting back. What I find so ironic is that after World War II, everybody said, ‘I don’t understand the Jews. How could they have just gone to their slaughter like that?’ OK, and then when they fight back: ‘I don’t understand the Jews. Why can’t they just go to their slaughter?’ It’s like, ‘You know what? We did that once. It’s not gonna happen again. You’re just gonna have to get used to the fact that Jews now defend themselves — and by the way, defend themselves better. I mean, this is a country, after all, that is surrounded by far greater numbers than their own [and] they are like two generations ahead in the military technology they have.

That’s how it’s done!

So Jon, I do hope you take this to heart. If not, I’ll keep watching your show. But I will be skipping the Israel segments. No disrespect.

About the Author
David Curwin is a lifelong lover of language (although not a professional linguist). He has been writing the blog Balashon, about the history of Hebrew words and phrases, and their connections with English, since 2006.