The Guardian’s Michael White takes thinly vieled antisemitic swipe at Sasha Baron Cohen

The Guardian’s Assistant Editor Michael White, writing in his blog, “Borat ‘racism’ case reflects badly on employment tribunals“, Aug. 24, begins with the following:

An employment tribunal in Leeds has decided that the use of the name “Borat” by a Wakefield-based welder to tease a Polish colleague is racist, and may require the award of compensation for hurt feelings.

For those unaware, the film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”, by Sasha Baron Cohen, is a 2006 “mockumentary” about a popular Kazakh television personality who leaves his homeland of Kazakhstan for America to make a documentary film at the behest of the fictitious Kazakh Ministry of Information.

The fake reporter utters sexist, racist and anti-Semitic comments as he crosses the States, encouraging those he encounters to be similarly politically incorrect.

As Cohen himself said,

“Borat essentially works as a tool. 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. The joke is on the racists”

But, White isn’t buying it. Beyond his understandable criticism of the actions of the employment tribunal, White can’t resist going after Cohen.

“Like a lot of his work, it struck me as exploitative and inherently condescending to the kind of people who weren’t lucky enough to go to Cambridge as he did. It’s also a one-trick joke.

Now, this is rich. An elitist paper like the Guardian – see the number of Guardian journalists who went to expensive private schools – which routinely publishes articles and commentary suggesting that vast swaths of ordinary, working class Americans are racist (See CiF America) accuses a Jew who reveals antisemitic (that is, racist) attitudes held by a number of Americans of “elitism”.

But, White’s enmity towards the Jewish artist reaches its peak in these passages:

Nor was Cohen’s own justification for the film – he was roundly criticised and Kazakhstan allegedly threatened to sue him – convincing. He told the Rolling Stone magazine – here’s the Telegraph’s account – that “the joke is on the racists”, because only such people could imagine that his gross parody of Kazakhstan – a place where gays wear blue hats, women live in cages and anti-Semitism is rife – could really exist.

Well, if you say so, Sasha, though there are some pretty nasty countries out there. And I doubt if you’d enjoy the joke if a Cambridge-educated Palestinian pulled off a similar stunt travelling through the more red-neck Israeli settlements on the West Bank…” [emphasis mine]

Just to be clear, the term “red-neck” is a historically derogatory slang term used in reference to poor white farmers in the American South – and is a stereotype always used in the pejorative to refer to those who are bigoted, loutish, and politically reactionary.

Such a gratuitous and off-topic attack on Israeli Jews who live on the “wrong” side of the Green Line is, in itself, indicative of White’s clear and unambiguous prejudice.

But, more importantly, what possible moral justification does White have for associating Cohen – a British Jew – with Israel?

What connection is there between Israeli “settlers” and a British Jew named Sasha Baron Cohen? 

Cohen’s film exposed quite clearly, how predisposed many people are to antisemitism.

White’s reference to Cohen’s Judaism – as well as his efforts to associate Cohen with the Jewish nation-state – to impugn his motives is an act of Jew-bating, clearly ad hominem and, arguably, racist.

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