The ‘settlements’ which occupy Michael White’s mind: Sasha Baron Cohen edition

The British Labour Party recently suspended Baron Ahmed, a Muslim member of the House of Lords, for claiming that his prison sentence several years ago for dangerous driving was the result of pressure placed on the court by Jews “who own newspapers and TV channels”.

Yesterday, as news of Ahmed’s suspension was reported, there was the following Twitter exchange between Guardian assistant editor Michael White and Daniel Finkelstein, a journalist for The Times.

The exchange continued:


As we noted, Finkelstein is a British Jew and not an Israeli.  The Guardian reporter’s response to Finkelstein’s Tweet represents the classic antisemitic narrative which holds Jews collectively responsible for the perceived sins of Israel.

However, this episode of Jew baiting wasn’t a one-off, and can not be justified as merely an impetuous social media gaffe.

A 2011 piece by White ‘Borat ‘racism’ case reflects badly on employment tribunals, Aug. 24, took aim at another Jew, Sasha Baron Cohen.

White’s Guardian blog entry took aim at Cohen for mocking antisemites in the film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”.  

The 2006 “mockumentary” focused on a fake Kazakh television personality who leaves his homeland of Kazakhstan for America to make a documentary film for the Kazakh Ministry of Information. The fake reporter utters sexist, racist and antisemitic comments as he crosses the US, encouraging those he encounters to make similarly bigoted remarks.

White’s commentary included the following:

“Like a lot of [Cohen’s] 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.

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.

He then addressed Cohen directly in the following passage:

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 added]

Again, for clarity, Sasha Baron Cohen (like Daniel Finkelstein) is a British Jew, and not an Israeli. 

Michael White saw a Jew ridiculing people who engaged in crude antisemitism and his first reflex was to associate him with the settlements in Israel. It’s as if he’s demanding that Jews must first prove they’re sufficiently opposed to the settlements before ‘complaining’ of anti-Jewish bigotry.

What other vulnerable minority in the world would be asked to pass such a moral test before their concerns about being subjected to racism are taken seriously?

Finally, some have argued that the people in Cohen’s film fell for a “trap”, and wouldn’t have uttered antisemitic remarks if not for Borat’s prompting.

Michael White, however, can offer no such defense.  He willingly volunteered his anti-Jewish bigotry without the slightest bit of coercion or ‘trickery’ to millions of “liberal” Guardian readers.

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