An episode of the NBC medical drama Nurses has earned condemnation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center over a plot involving an Orthodox Jew who refuses a bone graft from a potentially “Arab” or “woman” donor.
The controversy has led NBC to pull the episode from all digital platforms and future airings.
“The writers of this scene check all the boxes of ignorance and pernicious negative stereotypes right down to the name of the patient, Israel — payouts [sidelocks] and all,” a statement reads. “In one scene, NBC has insulted and demonized religious Jews and Judaism.”
The scene — which aired Feb. 9 in an episode called “Achilles Heel” and was first called out by the website Jew in the City — features a young Orthodox Jew named Israel laid up in a hospital bed after an accident. His father stands by his bedside, where he insists “the Creator” will heal him. A nurse counters that “medicine” is the answer to his shattered leg.
Soon a doctor informs them that Israel will require a bone graft — requiring part of a cadaver’s leg to be surgically inserted into his own.
“You want to put a dead leg inside of me?” Israel asks.
“A dead goyim leg — from anyone. An Arab, a woman,” his father says in horror.
“Or God forbid an Arab woman …” the nurse interjects, sarcastically.
Israel refuses the treatment, saying, “It’s God who heals what he creates.” His father looks on approvingly.
There are no restrictions in Orthodox Judaism regarding transplants from cadavers.
Responding to the scene, the Simon Wiesenthal Center notes, “Orthodox Jews are targeted for violent hate crimes in the city of New York. Jews are [the] number one target of hate crimes in the U.S. This is no slip of the tongue. It was a vile, cheap attack masquerading as TV drama. What’s NBC going to do about it?”
Elsewhere, B’nai Brith Canada has demanded action over the episode. “The disturbing stereotypes present in this episode of Nurses are deeply damaging to Jews, especially Orthodox practitioners,” says Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, in a statement. “We call on the producers to act responsibly and take accountability for this outrage.
The Toronto-set Nurses is a Canadian series that was picked up by NBC in late 2020 amid a shortage of original programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The anti-Jewish controversy comes in the wake of another issue involving NBC, after Saturday Night Live‘s Michael Che recently joked, “Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population. I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”
The comment led the Anti-Defamation League to issue a statement saying it had been monitoring the “Weekend Update” segment, which had “inappropriately used Jews as the punchline” on repeat occasions.
NBC has responded to the Nurses controversy by pulling the episode from digital platforms and canceling all future airings, according to sources with knowledge of the matter. While the network is in conversation with various Jewish groups, it has no plans to issue a statement condemning the episode.
Meanwhile, Nurses‘ Canadian studio Entertainment One issued this statement in response to the firestorm: “It’s important that we address the recent feedback we’ve received related to the portrayal of Jewish beliefs in the ‘Achilles Heel’ episode of our series Nurses. 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.”
The season finale of Nurses aired Feb. 23. NBC is unlikely to order further episodes as production of its regular lineup ramps up again following the COVID-19 shutdown.
Feb. 24, 1:14 p.m. Updated to include NBC’s actions.
Feb. 25, 7:41 a.m. Updated to include Entertainment One statement.