Borat and the Jews — A post-film post

Last night, as I waited in a line that stretched around the block for a 10pm screening of Borat in the East Village of Manhattan, a group of guitar-playing, post-college (and non-Jewish) kids danced along the line, strumming and singing, “Throw the Jews Down the Well.” Those waiting in line–a mostly non-Jewish audience–replied with glee, “So my country can be free!”

Huh.

Although one of my two film-mates, the notorious EV, told me to chill out, I couldn’t help think: would these white-bread hipsters sing with such gusto had David Chapell written a song called, “Lynch the niggers on the tree, so my country can be free?” I don’t know. What is it about the Jews and the idea of antisemitism that makes us act differently when the racist slurs are hurled at us? Is it the mystical Jewish property of Jewcentricity that keeps popping up throughout the last three millennia of our existence of a people? Yes, I understand that we Jews are no longer perceived of as a minority–and that many of us seem to think of Jews as privileged Whites. But we Jews are only as privileged in the Diaspora as the powers that be let us be.

As David Mamet wrote in his excellent and troubling new book, The Wicked Son, the idea that Jews can “pass” for white–and therefore not minorities and take on responsibility for the crimes of the majorities in whose midst we live is just as offensive as saying that homosexuals can “pass” for heterosexuals, and therefore should not be considered differently from the majority of the populace; that hate-crimes against homosexuals should be seen, in a way, as Gays’ own fault because, hey, they just didn’t know their place.

Thus, to disappoint EV, I do say that I must come out with it: I am a bit frightened by the power of Borat. But I do recognize that power–so I proposal a compromise: if Borat is interested in making a real political statement, he should be talking about Israel and the Zionists, and not the Jews.

Why? Because it just makes more sense that way. For example, Borat’s recent toying with the idea of barring Jews from press-conferences doesn’t really make sense in today’s world, where Jews as individuals have freedom of movement in the West. But it would if he said, “No Zionists Allowed,” since Jews in England who are connected to the State of Israel are barred from academic conferences and the like. Would that make me less uncomfortable? Not sure. “Throw Israel down the Well” is too reminiscent of what I heard for years on Columbia’s campus. But I could understand and appreciate the lack of comfort Borat’s singing of “Throw Israel down the Well” would engender.

So Sacha, if you by some slim nick of chance are reading this–think about talking less about the Jews, and more about Israel.

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