Borat and American Anti-Semitism– Missing the Forest for the Trees?




Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post opinion piece on Borat is important and insightful.  Krauthammer reacts with disbelief to Sacha Baron Cohen’s recent, rare, out-of-character interview since the release of the film.  In The Rolling Stone, Cohen defends the anti-Semitic expose’ that runs through Borat, claiming that Borat’s Jew-baiting is a sub-rosa attempt to expose a core of anti-Semitism that lives comfortably in the United States.:

"Borat essentially works as a tool," Baron Cohen says. "By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’ [a song performed at a country & western bar during Da Ali G Show] was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.

Krauthammer concludes otherwise:

America is the most welcoming, religiously tolerant, philo-Semitic country in the world. No nation since Cyrus the Great’s Persia has done more for the Jews. And its reward is to be exposed as latently anti-Semitic by an itinerant Jew looking for laughs and, he solemnly assures us, for the path to the Holocaust?

Look. Harry Truman used to tell derisive Jewish jokes. Richard Nixon said nasty things about Jews in government and elsewhere. Who cares? Truman and Nixon were the two greatest friends of the Jews in the entire postwar period: Truman secured them a refuge in the state of Israel, and Nixon saved it from extinction during the Yom Kippur War.

It is very hard to be a Jew today, particularly in Baron Cohen’s Europe, where Jew-baiting is once again becoming acceptable. But it is a sign of the disorientation of a distressed and confused people that we should find it so difficult to distinguish our friends from our enemies.

I think Krauthammer’s concluding statement is very profound–  with barely 13 million Jews in the entire world, the fact that a majority of Jews are unaffiliated with Jewish congregations or otherwise disconnected with their Judaism– even in the State of Israel– speaks volumes to the alienation and "disorientation" that defines more Jews than not when it comes to being in touch with their ethnicity and their religious heritage.

The Rolling Stone interview asserts that Cohen, whose Jewish ethnicity from his mother’s side originates in Persia, aka Iran, is a "devout Jew" because he keeps Kosher and observes Shabbat. I would be very interested to have a serious conversation about Judaism with Baron Cohen, not with Borat.

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