When Jewish organizations lobbied for a law requiring the U.S. Department of State to issue an annual report on antisemitism around the globe, they probably weren’t looking to do a favor for Kazakhstan.
The Central Asian country is a frequent target of “Da Ali G Show,” the HBO program in which British Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen portrays the character of Borat Sagdiyev — a genial, mustachioed Kazakh reporter who paints a portrait of his homeland as a wild den of misogynistic dog-shooting Gypsy- and Jew-haters. Perhaps the most notorious Borat segment had the disguised Cohen leading patrons at an Arizona country music bar in a rousing chorus of “In My Country There Is Problem” — a catchy song that had the room clapping and singing along to such lyrics as, “Throw the Jew down the well/so my country can be free.”
The Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington has objected to the show, claiming it defames the country on many fronts and ignores its solid record of religious tolerance. And now, in its recently released Report on Global Anti-Semitism, the State Department has taken this Jewish question by the horns, as it were, releasing the former Soviet territory from claims of widespread prejudice against Jews. Apparently, in Borat’s country, there is no problem.
The government report, released January 5, mentions antisemitic leaflets distributed by a group called Hizb ut-Tahrir, but otherwise states that no problematic acts were reported during the observation period. In fact, in August the chief rabbi of Kazakhstan told an international religious conference in Brussels that he never had witnessed a single case of antisemitism in his decade living in the country. In September, Kazakhstan dedicated the largest synagogue in Central Asia, with the chief rabbi of Israel in attendance.
Roman Vassilenko, the press secretary of the Kazakhstan Embassy, said of the report: “It is a fair assessment of the situation on the ground in Kazakhstan and the efforts of our government to promote religious harmony.”
Baron Cohen was unavailable for comment when contacted through an HBO publicist.
Vassilenko said that he can laugh at the jokes, but wishes Baron Cohen had chosen to poke fun at an imaginary country, like Krakozhia, from Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal.”
“I do have a sense of humor,” Vassilenko said. “But it’s not quite helpful and perhaps harmful to portray a country where ‘Throw the Jew down the well’ is a famous folk song.”
The State Department report sheds no light on Borat’s assertions that Kazakh women are kept in cages and that the wine there is made from fermented horse urine.