A pink-haired parody of a Berkeley progressive corrects her fellow "Three Wise Persons" on gender politics in a recent video from the Israeli sketch comedy series "Eretz Nehederet." (Screenshot/YouTube)
A pink-haired parody of a Berkeley progressive corrects her fellow "Three Wise Persons" on gender politics in a recent video from the Israeli sketch comedy series "Eretz Nehederet." (Screenshot/YouTube)

Viral videos about Bay Area antisemitism blur the line between reality and satire

In a new comedy sketch, three people visit Joseph and Mary in a Bethlehem barn following Jesus’ birth. These are not the Three Wise Men from the East, though. They are the “Three Wise Persons” from the West — Berkeley, to be exact. And instead of coming to bless the King of the Jews, they’ve come to lecture Jesus’ parents about how they and their son are actually Palestinians.

“You have to understand, Jews will only come to this land 1,948 years from now,” the pompous professor says. “As a colonialist power,” a pink-haired student adds. “Oh, I see someone’s been listening this semester,” the professor responds with a self-satisfied smirk.

UC Berkeley has long been a punching bag in right-wing American media for exemplifying what many now call “wokeness” — social justice activism run amok.

Yet this sketch, titled “The Gospel According to Berkeley,” appeared not on American television but on Tuesday’s episode of “Eretz Nehederet” (“Wonderful Country”), Israel’s version of “Saturday Night Live.” And the cast, joined by “Stranger Things” actor Brett Gelman, performed it entirely in English, something they rarely did before the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, according to scholar and fan of Israeli television Shayna Weiss.

“They’re clearly reaching for an international audience,” Weiss, associate director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, told me. “There’s a perception that this is a social media war, a TikTok war, and they’re trying to be part of that conversation.”

“The Gospel According to Berkeley,” which has been viewed 2.8 million times on X (formerly Twitter), is the third in a series of English-language sketches that “Eretz Nehederet” has aired in recent weeks satirizing antisemitism on American college campuses.

The first, “Welcome to Columbia Untisemity,” mocked pro-Palestinian activists at the Ivy League school with a depiction of two naive students who interview a Hamas terrorist on their YouTube show and misinterpret his threats against them. The second, “The Hogwarts Code of Conduct,” was a Harry Potter-inspired parody of the tone-deaf congressional testimony given by the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the “Eretz Nehederet” team would look to the Bay Area for inspiration. To my dismay, the region has provided no shortage of stomach-churning material in recent weeks that blurred the line between reality and satire.

First there was the infamous video of the Nov. 27 Oakland City Council meeting where a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war was adopted. During the public comment portion of the meeting, scores of people offered justifications for Hamas’ brutality and shared bizarre conspiracy theories — including that “Israel murdered their own people on Oct. 7,” as one speaker falsely stated. That video has been viewed more than 30 million times on X.

Some criticized the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, which compiled and shared the video, for allegedly cherry-picking the most jaw-dropping sound bites from nearly six hours of public comments. Tye Gregory, JCRC’s CEO, clapped back on X: “Were nine @AROCBayArea and @jvplive speakers celebrating Hamas not enough for you?”

Then last week another video exposing the Bay Area’s antisemitic underbelly went viral. In that one, right-wing provocateur Ami Horowitz pretended to solicit donations from students on the campus of San Francisco State University to fund terrorist attacks against Jews in the U.S. and Europe.

“We have to hit these people hard,” he said in his pitch to the students, as a cameraman surreptitiously filmed from a distance. “And we want to fund operations against soft targets: schools, hospitals, Jewish cafés.”

In a voiceover at the end of the video, which has been viewed more than 2.2 million times on X, Horowitz says 28 out of the 35 SFSU students he engaged in conversation expressed support for his (fake) cause, and 17 pledged money.

Although Horowitz calls himself a “guerilla journalist,” his “Ami on the Loose” series is labeled as satire on the website of PragerU, the controversial conservative media company that sponsors him. Horowitz wasn’t actually raising money at SFSU for terrorism, and no students are shown giving him cash. The snippets of his conversations appear to have been edited to make the students sound as gullible and heartless as possible. (He pulled a similar stunt at UC Berkeley in 2014 in which he waved the ISIS and Israeli flags and filmed the reactions of passersby.)

This is pure shtick à la “The Daily Show” — a manufactured controversy meant, in this case, to stick it to the libs. Horowitz said in the introduction that he chose SFSU because it’s “one of the most left-leaning, intersectional schools in the country,” whatever that means. Is it newsworthy that some uninformed college students readily agreed to support a “radical” cause, however sick that cause may be?

I had my doubts, but I did what any responsible journalist would do in this situation: I reached out to SFSU’s communications department for comment. Here is part of the statement it sent back: “Amidst a disturbing trend across the country, SF State University condemns any messaging which promotes violence against Jewish people. We at SF State have been hard at work … to ensure the belongingness and safety of Jewish students, faculty, staff and administrators.”

As the video began to circulate online, the American Jewish Committee proactively contacted J. to offer its own response. Here is part of it: “The antisemitism captured on video was nothing short of horrifying. Before October 7th, SFSU was already a hotbed of anti-Zionist activity, where two-thirds of Jewish students said they felt a need to hide their Jewish identity on campus. If even a single SFSU student, let alone so many, thinks it is OK to contribute money for the explicit purpose of killing Jews, something is seriously flawed with the education offered at the school.”

These responses are entirely predictable, but staying silent about expressions of Jew hatred, even those made in the context of a satirical video, feels morally suspect after Oct. 7.

For me, these three recent viral videos — the “Eretz Nehederet” sketch, the Oakland City Council clips and the SFSU stunt — raise more questions than they answer about the extent of the antisemitic rot in the Bay Area. Since Oct. 7, I have often found myself questioning whether the images and videos I see on social media are real. I’m not wondering whether they are AI-generated, but whether they are a true representation of what people are thinking and feeling about Jews and Israel.

With each new viral video, I feel like Joseph at the end of “The Gospel According to Berkeley.” After the Three Wise Persons finish their ahistorical lecture about Middle East history and leave the barn, Joseph turns to Mary, raises his arms and says, “What the hell was that?”

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.