‘Borat’ and a new film on Antisemitism

‘Borat’ and a new film on Antisemitism

“Look Into My Eyes” is a personal exploration into antisemitism (mostly in Hebrew) by the Israeli filmmaker, Naftaly Gliksberg. I saw it last week at the International Human Rights Film Festival at New York’s Lincoln Center.

It helped that Mr. Gliksberg did a Q & A after the screening. Before learning his intent directly, the film seemed disjointed and self-indulgent. Gliksberg wants it seen by non-Jews; he says that he’s bringing a mirror to Christians, helping them to see the conscious and subconscious elements of prejudice in how they view Jews. (He deals only with Christian antisemitism, nothing about Muslims or the Arab-Israeli conflict.)

The title comes from the final episode in Gliksberg’s journey through Europe and the USA when he confronts neo-Nazis in Germany. He is cordial, seemingly almost becoming friends with an old man named Mahler, on trial for Holocaust denial, a criminal offense in Germany. (Mahler was, in fact, recently convicted.) One of his supporters tells Gliksberg that he cannot look a Jew in the eye, because of the pure evil that lurks behind his gaze. Gliksberg plays with the Nazi, even good-naturedly embracing him as he encourages him to look. But the man backs away in disgust and anger.

The Israeli’s foray into Germany also involves a visit to a couple with a teenage daugher, all of whom were ex-neo-Nazis. The interaction with the girl is especially illuminating; it becomes clear that the “movement” had given them a sense of identity and belonging – more important than the actual ideology of hate. She recalls the movement songs and activities with genuine longing.

Gliksberg began his film with his visit to a Passion Play in Poland, where members of the mob and the Sanhedrin are clearly identifiable as Jews responsible for the persecution of Jesus. The Poles he interviews profess no antipathy toward Jews, but some reveal their belief in stereotypes about how rich, clever and clannish Jews are.

He also makes a painful visit to Kelce, where in 1946, a pogrom started by a blood libel rumor, cost the lives of over 40 Jews brutally murdered by their Polish neighbors. A liberal Pole tells Gliksberg of how a Catholic priest, years later, repeated this age-old fantasy that Jews murdered and bled a boy to make matza.

By way of contrast, a Passion Play at a rural American pentecostal church, where worship includes “speaking in tongues,” provides no such antisemitic imagery. In fact, the congregation enthusiastically welcomes their guest from Israel and the pastor professes his love for Israel and the Jewish people.

Toward the end of his visit, however, the pastor is caught on camera in an outburst against Israelis for being rude – in the way that Israelis often are because of their habit of directness. The pastor concludes that in the future the “Jewish people” would miss “Christian money” if this coarseness deters Christian tourists from coming in great numbers. This bursts out as a sudden stream of consciousness, with the minister ruminating at the end of a long day, too tired perhaps to filter his thoughts.

Then I saw “Borat” on TV over the weekend. This farce by the incredibly talented English-Jewish comic and actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, includes an outrageous dose of antisemitism in the plot. Cohen plays a faux-TV journalist from Kazakhstan, who is incredibly primitive, crude and bigoted. If you’re familiar with Hebrew, you may notice that much of his faux-Kazakh dialogue is Hebrew. (Cohen was a member of the Labor-Zionist youth group Habonim Dror and spent a year in Israel on kibbutzim.) His Scottish fiancee (or wife by now) converted to Judaism and says that she is quite observant.

Chutzpa defines Cohen’s technique, as his Borat personna confronts real people. Some of these confrontations are shocking. For example, he gets a straight answer without so much as a blink of an eye from a gun dealer he consults on the best choice of weapon for shooting a Jew.
An outtake from the movie, at least the version shown on cable television, viewable on ‘You Tube’, is of Borat accompanying himself on guitar as he entertains the crowd at an Arizona bar with a “charming” tune called “Throw the Jew Down the Well.” Words to the rousing chorus, which the patrons sing enthusiastically, include: “Throw the Jew down the well, so my country can be free … then we have a big party [pronounced par-tee].” (Gliksberg’s mirror anyone?)
By | 2009-06-29T04:07:00-04:00 June 29th, 2009|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Yehuda Erdman July 24, 2009 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    Listen don’t lose your sense of humour and remember that Sacha Baron- Cohen is an ex-Habonimnik and that all his work carries huge amounts of parody, satire and a rather touching self-deprecation. I and my sons find his work very, very funny and even if you fail to see the funny side, millions of others are not all wrong. Wait till you see Bruno, but I am not saying you’ll enjoy it!!!

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