Last year, a sketch character called Borat sang a song advising the world to throw the Jews down the well so his country could be free, and in the process he managed to convince the patrons in a country-western bar to sing along. The world’s response? Some Jewish organizations were predictably fearful–worrying about the possibility that the sketch was promoting anti-Semitism–while many individuals around the world embraced the joke, and the comedian, behind the sketch. Many of Borat’s fans were Jewish, but didn’t see it as a conflict; some of them “got the joke,” that people will do anything on camera, and the “not-so-jokey” part, that people are followers who may embrace anti-Semitism if it’s compelling enough in the moment. Other people just thought it was funny.
This year, Borat’s got a new movie coming out, called “Encyclopedia Borat and the Case of the Infernally Long and Unmemorable Fake Movie Title.” (Actually, the movie’s real title is “Borat’s Cultural Learnngs of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” See? Mine was easier.) So with millions of people about to be exposed to this anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist, we’ll be hearing a lot about whether the movie is good for the Jews.
While Borat’s creator, Sacha Baron Cohen, is himself Jewish–and, as a cover story in Entertainment Weekly noted, “wrote a thesis on the black-Jewish alliance in the American civil rights movement”–one of Borat’s more famous characteristics is his virulent anti-Semitism. Most recently, People reported that he expressed a wish “to meet the fearless anti-Jew warrior Melvin Gibson.” He continued, “We agree with his comments that the Jews started all wars. We also have proof that they were responsible for killing off all the dinosaurs. And Hurricane Katrina–they did it.”
But what’s that gibberish dialect that Borat speaks in the film? It’s supposed to be his native Kazakh language, but after viewing a new trailer, Jews the world over know the truth: Borat speaks Hebrew.
In the movie, according to a report in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (the AP of Jewish journalism): “Borat takes leave of his ancestral village, telling one resident, according to the subtitle, ‘Doltan, I’ll get you a new arm in America.’ In fact, Cohen says in Hebrew, ‘I’ll buy you some kind of a new arm.’ Borat also parries with his wife in Hebrew.” (I am citing the report for journalistic reasons, but as a Hebrew-speaker, I can verify that this is true.)
The Entertainment Weekly article further noted that the “Kazakh” Borat speaks is actually a blend of gibberish, Hebrew, and Polish. And Borat’s Wikipedia entry notes that the Kazakh journalist has been known to say the lyrics of a Hebrew folk song, “Koom Bachur Atzel.” (Anyone who knows that song will now have it stuck in his or her head for the rest of the day. Sorry about that.)
Clearly, the artist behind Borat doesn’t really believe Jews should all be thrown down the well, or that Jews killed the dinosaurs, any more than the creators of South Park believe that skater Brian Boitano built the pyramids and beat up Kublai Khan. But perhaps within Borat’s choice of language, there’s an additional wink in an already parodic portrayal. Perhaps it’s even a reward for the Hebrew-speakers who can see past the “anti-Semitism” and get the joke.