What really makes these skits funny is the mocking of mannerisms, coupled with the hyperbolic restatements of what political leaders actually say.
But there are limits.
One skit produced for the last episode of SNL ended up not being used, but someone at NBC decided it would be a good idea to release it over the internet. And given the attention the skit is now getting, I guess maybe it was a good idea, from the standpoint of pure publicity. The subject matter of the skit is Chuck Hagel's hearing before the Senate Armed Service Committee, wherein Hagel was grilled on the subject of Israel. Here's the skit:
The skit portrays a number of Senators as being so deeply "in the pocket" of Israel as to allow the obvious conclusion: Israel controls the U.S. government, or at least a good chunk of it. The obvious corollary to that: the Jews control the government. That's the implication, and it's crystal clear; that's the message many will take from the skit, they'll see it as pure truth, even if presented in a supposedly comedic way.
Evidence? Simply look at the comments on YouTube. The Anti Defamation League released a letter to Lorne Michaels--who is himself Jewish--in response to the skit being released. From the letter:
On the one hand, in taking this public controversy and skewering it to a degree that is absurd, this is a form of legitimate satire that serves to erode the hard edge of those who falsely claim that America is a tool of the Israelis. On the other hand, there inevitably will be those who say, “Yeah, it’s funny, but there is some truth to all of this.” And for a smaller minority among those individuals, elements of the skit could play into the worst kind of ideas, even reinforcing pernicious notions of Jewish control of government in the vein of those routinely espoused by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites by suggesting that U.S. officials would even engage in public sex acts if asked to do so by Israel.The Daily Beast reported on the skit and the response from the ADL, noting the following:
Foxman [the National Director of the ADL and the author of the letter] was far blunter in an interview with The Daily Beast, calling the sketch “overdone and overdone and overdone. It focuses on the issue of Israel to such a ridiculous extreme that we do become concerned because there is a claim out there that America’s a tool of the Israelis.” He added: “It sort of reinforces the pernicious notion of Jewish control over this government ... that Israel controls the Senate.”
The ADL’s public opinion surveys “indicate that 30 percent of the American people believe that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States,” Foxman said. “That’s an anti-Semitic canard…The same percentage of people in the United States believe that the Jews killed Christ.”That belief--that Jews are loyal to Israel above all else as a matter of course--feeds all kinds of other conspiracy theories, including some truly outrageous ones. It's somewhat pointless to delve into the conspiracy claptrap surrounding 9-11, wherein the Jews or Israel were actually behind the whole thing. People who believe such dreck are not going to be swayed by any facts. And make no mistake, there are a sizable number of such people, in the U.S. and the world at large:
Allowing that the "Israel controls the U.S. government" meme creeps into these numbers, that 7% average--of people thinking Israel was behind 9-11--is likely on the low side.
The point is, this SNL skit feeds the nonsense, gives credence to such ridiculous ideas in ways other SNL skits do not for other nonsense. Making fun of George W. Bush's "deer in the headlights" expression, Barack Obama's tendency to "umm," or Al Gore's arrogance all represent valid political satire, whether one agrees with the point being made or not. Feeding anti-Semitism is an entirely different thing.
And on top of all this, the Hagel skit just wasn't funny. It wasn't clever. The big laugh line of McCain asking Hagel if he would "perform oral sex on a donkey" on Netanyahu's orders is not only offensive, it's just plain stupid, not even worth a smile, in my opinion (unless one happens to think any kind of sexual comment is automatically funny).
Worse still, there are those who would justify the nonsense because Michaels and other at SNL are themselves Jewish. As Foxman notes in his interview with the Daily Beast:
That doesn't excuse their insensitivity and their playing on stereotypes and selling stereotypes and forcing stereotypes.Indeed, that fact--their Jewishness--empowers the wingnuts even more, as they use it to say "see, even the Jews know they control everything; they're laughing at us," or similar types of things.
As I noted previously about the Hagel nomination, I don't think he's a very strong choice, I don't think he brings much of anything to the table, as it were. The idea that he is anti-Semitic to some degree--based on past word choices--is a fair issue to broach. And frankly, Hagel handled the hearing poorly in this regard. He's not being criticized because the Jews control America (and the world), he's being criticized because he left the door open.