Reading Time: 3 minutes (Photo courtesy of NBCUniversal)
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Television networks on both sides of the US-Canada border are pulling an episode of Canadian hospital drama Nurses out of circulation following criticism from Jewish human rights groups, calling the plot harmful and anti-Semitic.

(Photo courtesy of NBCUniversal)

The episode focuses on the dilemma of an Orthodox Jewish man (literally named Israel) who needs a bone graft from a donor. His father expresses horror that doctors might derive the graft “from anyone — an Arab, a woman?” Israel refuses to allow the doctors to provide him with a graft from “a goyim leg.”

It’s an ugly scenario, to be sure. It combines all the anti-scientific obstinacy of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ blood donor refusals or the near-religious mania of some anti-vaxxers. But it’s even worse, because the substance of the concern has hate and disgust at its heart. The characters appear to find some people so inherently beneath them, to accept any part of them — even a remnant of their bones — would be a fate worse than death.

It would be very upsetting if it were true.

According to B’nai Brith Canada, though, that attitude is outright inconsistent with Jewish teaching:

In actuality, when a Jew receives a graft or organ donation from the dead, under Jewish law, the fact that the donor may be a non-Jew, a woman, an Arab, or even a fellow Jew is irrelevant. According to traditional Jewish law, saving a life takes precedence over all other considerations and religious commandments.

In addition to being factually accurate, the attribution of such beliefs to Orthodox Jewish characters plays into a long-standing anti-Semitic stereotype that paints Jews as intolerant and irrationally hateful. That’s particularly bad news in a time when B’nai Brith has observed an uptick in anti-Semitic violence and harassment. According to their records, 2019 was record-breaking.

Jason Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, called for action:

Myths about Jewish religious beliefs and practices are far too commonplace, and this episode only serves to amplify such longstanding misperceptions about Jews. We have reached out to NBC executives and have requested that they pull this episode and review their standards for approving dramatic content so that this doesn’t happen in the future.

And thus far, that’s exactly what has happened.

The show’s two distributors — NBC in the U.S. and Global TV in Canada — have both decided not to air the episode again and to remove it from streaming services. What’s more, the show’s producers at Canadian media company eOne have publicly apologized to all the show’s viewers as well as the Jewish community. On their behalf, representative Sonia Brum released a statement that acknowledged the need for greater research:

[We] want to share with you that we take matters of this nature very seriously and deeply regret all inaccuracies related to religious beliefs as well as the negative portrayal of any religious community in our content, characters, and storylines. We sincerely apologize to the Jewish community, our viewers and series fans, and are working to understand what transpired and ensure our research practices are exhaustive moving forward and lead only to well-informed storylines.

Art and media is free to critique any religious tradition it pleases, of course. But the best critiques — indeed, the only ones with real merit — come out of deep engagement with and knowledge of the subject matter. A critique of religion rooted in the assumption that certain expressions of religion must be irrationally hateful is so lacking in nuance, it’s virtually meaningless.

The best time to do the right thing would’ve been before creating the episode, when they could’ve talked to a single Hasidic Jew about how their religion would handle the situation depicted.

The second best time is now. They can’t take it back, but they can at least correct the record.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)