Blacks, Jews and Borat

borat's little known attendance at the Selma march
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America Make for Benefit Glorious Thesis of Cohen.

Monday in Israel saw prominent African American evangelical pastor and the head of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus, Glenn Plummer, announcing the launch of Jerusalem’s new annual MLK Jr. award aimed at emphasizing the cooperation between American Jews and blacks during the American civil rights movement in an effort to shore up black support for Israel.

“When Black Americans had no one standing with us, at a time when even our White evangelical Christian brothers were pro-segregation or silent, the Jewish people stood with us, and I want to say…that we will stand with Israel,” Plummer was quoted as saying.

Israel, apparently misunderstanding the difference, gave some security guards the day off brought out some token Ethiopians for the event, including “Ethiopian archbishop and clergy dressed in black-hooded gowns” (???), “as well as the black-hatted rabbi of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel”.

The award, which Plummer hopes will affect the “80 percent of the 35 million African Americans [who] consider themselves Christian” into becoming more sympathetic to Israel is obviously an admirable endeavor. But will it work?

As we know, despite our shared history of slavery and oppression relations between blacks and Jews has steadily disintegrated since the civil right movement, with black leaders identifying more with Islam than Judaism and increasing hostilities in mixed neighborhoods culminating with the infamous Crown Heights riots.

So will putting the spotlight back on the early 60’s do the trick?

Let’s ask Borat, whose alternative personality, Sasha Baron Cohen, once wrote his Cambridge thesis on the topic, calling it “The ‘Black-Jewish Alliance:’ A Case of Mistaking Identities.”

In it, he argues that the early 90’s Jewish obsession with black antisemitism “came out of Jews feeling betrayed by their old blood brothers from the civil-rights movement. But while it was perceived in the Jewish community that Jews were disproportionately involved in civil rights, [Cohen’s] conclusion was black Americans didn’t see Jews as being more involved than any white Americans.”

“The Jewish kids were all there in the South, but because they were there as part of church organizations like the (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), they weren’t seen as Jews but as white liberals. So there was this deep irony that the Jewish establishment took martyrs like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner” – two civil-rights workers from New York who went to Mississippi to register black voters and were killed by the Ku Klux Klan – “and used them as symbols of a Jewish-black alliance when, in fact, they didn’t really see themselves as Jews at all.” Cohen pauses, drolly adding: “The dissertation is a lot funnier than I depicted it.”

Some have suggested that it was out of this early interest in irony and race identity that the character of Ali G. was born. Others, such as CBS have noted that while Cohen may feel the Jewish involvement in Civil Rights was exaggerated, the historic affinity affects his own work; in the Borat movie, only blacks are depicted sympathetically. “Where the pseudo-Kazakh mocks stuffy, uptight whites, he learns from urban blacks. And don’t forget that Luenell, a black prostitute, is the heroine of the movie. ”

Elsewhere in his dissertation, Cohen posited that “Jews may have taken up the black struggle because it is part of the Jewish ethic to “know the stranger,” to defend those cast out.” And Indeed, it seems Cohen has built a business out of that Jewish ethic. By becoming the stranger, be it Ali G, Borat, or Bruno, Cohen is testing the public’s, particularly the white public’s, treatment of those perceived to be “strange.”

However, if the Jewish-Black alliance was once built on our mutual feelings of otherness, can an award based on an era in which country clubs had signs banning “Jews and Dogs” still inspire at a time in which Jews are no longer viewed as “the stranger” but as part of the white ruling class in America and as a majority and military power in their own land?

Probably not, I say. But I guess it’s always good to have dream…


  1. dede

    1/17/2007 at 8:59 am

  2. POLJ

    1/17/2007 at 10:26 am

  3. Tom Morrissey

    1/18/2007 at 10:18 am

  4. amybz

    1/21/2007 at 1:17 am

  5. WSU

    3/12/2007 at 3:47 pm

  6. Bonuses

    5/13/2019 at 3:25 pm

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