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Why Jon Stewart can't say 'Israel' on The Daily Show

Weston WilliamsThe Christian Science Monitor

On “The Daily Show” Monday night, Jon Stewart opened the show with what seemed to be a criticism of Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza.

He didn’t get far, however, before the mention of the word “Israel” caused his entire team of fake journalists/commentators to (comically) pop up behind him and yell abuse at him.

The sketch was parody of recent criticism of the talk show host for condemning Israel’s attack on Gaza in a segment last week, which landed him in a lot of political hot water with pro-Israel viewers.

Last week’s sketch was a satirical news segment in which Stewart pointed out the disproportionate amount of strength on Israel’s side against Gaza in the recent attacks, which has now claimed hundreds of lives.

“Both sides are engaging in aerial bombardment, but one side appears to be bomb-better at it,” said Stewart on the segment, according to The Jewish Daily Forward. 

The comedy talk show host went on to point out that Israel has the Iron Dome, an anti-missile defense system, and an app that warns users of incoming missiles. How are the residents of Gaza warned, according to Stewart?

“So the Israeli military warns Gaza residents of imminent bombing...with a smaller warning bombing! An amuse-boom, if you will.”

Of course, Stewart is doing TV satire on current events, but for many young Americans, The Daily Show is a primary news source. Among those younger than 30, 13 percent watch the Daily Show regularly, and the same number says they regularly watch the Colbert Report, according to a 2010 Pew Research study on American news consumption.

Given his popularity, his jokes criticizing Israel have made a few enemies, particularly among Jewish critics.

One of the most vocal critics of the segment was conservative (and Jewish) radio host Mark Levin, who, according to Politico,called Stewart a “knee-jerk idiot” and “self-hating Jew” (Stewart is also Jewish).

One of the insults hurled at Stewart in The Daily Show’s segment Monday night about not being able to talk about Israel was the latter Levin quote.

David Horovitz, in an editorial for The Times of Israel, used less volatile language, but still raised several points against The Daily Show host. 

“My trouble here is that while this part of the routine may be amusing, it’s deliberately skewing the point to get those laughs,” says Horovitz in the editorial.

Horovitz argues that Hamas’ aim is not to protect itself, but to aggressively attack Israel, which justifies Israel using every method at its disposal to protect itself. Hamas is the group currently governing the Gaza Strip. Several countries, including the United States and Israel, classify it as a terrorist organization.

As for warning Gaza residents, Horowitz says, a warning shot is simply the best Israel can do, since Gaza has no Iron Dome, much less an app that tells them when to evacuate.

Horovitz added, “Don’t get me wrong. It’s hell in Gaza right now, and pretty awful most of the time. But it’s largely a Hamas-created hell.”

By oversimplifying the conflict, Horovitz says, Stewart is missing the point that Israel is simply defending itself against an aggressor dedicated to destroying the Jewish state.

Levin took a stronger stance against the talk show host, saying in a radio segment that Stewart, by expressing sympathy with Gaza, is pro-Hamas.  Stewart denied the accusation in last night’s segment.

"Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this," Stewart said. "But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel's policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas."

According to CNN, the death toll consists of over 576 Palestinians and 26 Israeli soldiers. The UN believes that 70 percent of the Palestinian casualties are civilians. The United States  is currently pushing for a ceasefire between the combatants.