Baron Cohen, Enemy Agent?

By Anthony Weiss

Published November 18, 2005, issue of November 18, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Zamanbek Nurkadilov, a former minister in the government of Kazakhstan and a critic of the country’s president, was found shot dead in his home Saturday. An alarming development, one might think, but officials of the Central Asian country seem more concerned about possible damage to their image done by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen at the MTV Europe Music Awards earlier this month. Kazakh officials threatened Monday to sue Baron Cohen, whose portrayal of the bumbling Kazakh TV reporter Borat Sagdiyev they have deemed an “unacceptable” attack on their country. One official intimated that perhaps the comedian was operating at the behest of some enemy of Kazakhstan and its people.

The lovable yet serially inappropriate Borat character, one of the alter egos assumed by Baron Cohen on his “Da Ali G Show,” has suggested, among other things, that rape is a common Kazakh pastime, that fermented horse urine is a beloved national beverage and that “Dirty Jew” is a popular Kazakh film. The character was filmed arriving at the MTV awards in a single-propeller Air Kazakh plane, piloted by a one-eyed man drinking from a bottle of vodka.

As they have in the past, Ka-zakh officials contend that the character depicts not only an inaccurate picture of Kazakh life but a potentially damaging one, as well. “People may have an inkling that Kazakhstan is a country that mistreats women and Jewish people,” Roman Vassilenko, a spokesman for the Kazakhstan embassy, told the Forward. “We believe this is very unhelpful.”

The character’s antics come at a time when Kazakhstan is looking to burnish its image on the international stage. According to David Twersky, director of international affairs for the American Jewish Congress, Kazakhstan has asked to host a conference on antisemitism, to be held next year by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. “I don’t think they’ll get it, because of human rights and democracy questions,” Twersky said. “They think this is a ticket into the West — being good to the Jews, hosting the antisemitism conference.”

Attempts by the Forward to reach Baron Cohen for comment were unsuccessful. According to the comedian’s agent, Matthew Labov, “He is relaxing at a resort in the Caspian Sea.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv?
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.