Almost a year ago, I did a post attacking the Sasha Baron Cohen ditty “Throw the Jews Down the Well.” Here, in pertinent part, is what I said:
What I do know is that the whole sketch seems to have become something of a license to be anti-Semitic. On the website I linked to above, you can read this disclaimer: “Again warnings are made that this may be quite offensive to some, but Sacha (Borat) is of course himself Jewish.” I found the language fascinating. It’s not just offensive,” it only “may” be offensive “to some.” I assume the author means that either people with Cohen’s sophisticated sense of humor or out and out anti-Semites, will find it inoffensive. I was equally fascinated by the excuse for the song’s message: Cohen is Jewish. That doesn’t excuse anything in my mind. Some of the worst anti-Semites are Jewish. Karl Marx, whose family underwent a strictly nonreligious conversion in order to advance materially, is a stunning example. Noam Chomskey is another.
Aside from core problems I have with the sketch, what I find really disturbing the traction it has gained. Go onto YouTube and you’ll find a significant number of videos celebrating the song’s message (” Borat encouraging us all to throw transport and jews down a well to free his country!”) as well as a growing number of “do it yourself” videos in which people gleefully sing “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”
Maybe it’s just my priggish side showing here, but I find this unfunny. I also find disturbing that, because this song is presented in the context of a hip comedy show, and is performed by someone Jewish, it’s totally okay to make it part of modern intellectual/pop culture currency.
Now I read that, in the Uzbekistan, the culture Cohen is “spoofing,” anti-Semitism is alive and well, with Jews good and dead:
In Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan it is now clear that Jews are still being lynched. As Ynetnews reports, last week the noted Jewish-Uzbek stage director Mark Weil was stabbed to death outside his Tashkent home. “Uzbek police suspect the murder was an anti-Semitic attack,” according to Ynetnews. Last April, the 55-year-old theater director, founder in 1976 of the Ilkhom Theater (one of the oldest independent theaters in the former USSR), had hosted a festival in Tashkent of Contemporary Israeli Literature and Drama. Weil was stabbed to death by two men, “possibly due to his Jewish identity,” as the director was well known for his close ties to the local Jewish community. Despite U. S. State Department warnings, Weil had assured friends and colleagues that his theater “had no enemies,” although its avant-garde subject matter on occasion included gay love, which in the Central Asian Muslim country of Uzbekistan is still punishable by a prison sentence.
Weil, who is survived by a wife and two daughters, is scarcely the first victim of recent anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan. Last year, 33-year-old Avraham Hakohen Yagudayev, a Jewish leader, died of cranial injuries in Tashkent after what local authorities called a traffic accident, but what local Hillel director asserted “was no accident,” pointing to overt anti-Semitism as the motive. (In 2000, his synagogue had been gutted by a fire that authorities pooh-poohed, claiming it was caused by a short circuit.) Since 1989, some 83,000 Uzbeki Jews have fled to Israel, with only around 17,000 remaining. As the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress explains, anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan is prevalent and a matter of ongoing concern.
Benjamin Ivry, who authored the above passage, adds one more thing:
During the filming of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 The Great Dictator (a satire about Europe’s evolving historical tragedies), Chaplin realized that “Hitler [was] a horrible menace to civilization rather than someone to laugh at.” As the death toll of Central Asian Jews continues to increase, cinema audiences may wish to reconsider whether it is really timely to laugh at Borat, a character from a region of the world where (at least for Jews) the laughs have dried up entirely.