I sometimes found Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G character quite funny but I suspected Cohen was a zionist when he pulled that Throw the Jew into the well routine and I found the whole Borat persona to be racist. I wasn't surprised when Cohen came out against the protest against the celebration of Tel Aviv's "centenary" at the Toronto International Film Festival. But the following story did surprise me. It shows Sacha Baron Cohen to be a despicable liar even by the sorry standards of zionist apologists.
I wouldn't have known about this if I hadn't noticed from our own JSF blogroll that Umkhalil hasn't posted for over a month. Checking the blog I noticed that the output was down to about one post a month so her post from 1 August, 2009 was still on the homepage. The post links to a youtube clip a Guardian article headed, The non-profit worker from Bethlehem who was branded a terrorist by Bruno, Bruno being Cohen's latest character and the non-profit worker being Abu Aita, a Palestinian with no record of armed activism.
Here's a large cut from the on line article:
Baron Cohen's film protagonist Brüno is a gay fashion-obsessed Austrian TV host who, in a short clip featuring Abu Aita, asks to be kidnapped in a bid to get famous. He thinks that Palestinian terrorists are the "best guys" for the job, because "al-Qaida are so 2001".Cohen can make himself available to denounce protests against the showcasing of Tel Aviv but cannot comment on lies he has told to undermine a Palestinian community activist and the Palestinian cause more generally.
Promoting the film recently on the David Letterman talkshow in the US, Baron Cohen explained that finding a "terrorist" to interview for the movie took several months and some help from a CIA contact. He described the secular Martyrs Brigades, most of whom signed an amnesty deal with Israel in 2007, as "the number one suicide bombers out there".
Abu Aita said: "My file is clear with the Americans. I was in the states twice and I travel all the time." He is a Christian Fatah representative – of the movement's political wing, he stresses – for Bethlehem district. He is also a member of the board of the Holy Land trust, a non-profit organisation that works on Palestinian community-building. "I am a non-violent activist and I am not ashamed of that," he says.
The interview with Baron Cohen was set up via Awni Jubran, a journalist for the Palestinian news agency, PNN, who received a call from the film's producer. "My friend Awni told me they wanted a Palestinian campaigner to talk about the situation for a documentary, to show young people what life is like in the Palestinian territories," says Abu Aita.
He met Baron Cohen one week later, accompanied by Jubran and Sami Awad, founder of the Holy Land trust – although Baron Cohen described the two to Letterman as bodyguards for "the terrorist". Abu Aita says that Brüno's crew chose the location, which is under total Israeli control – and which appears in the film as Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp, in Lebanon.
"We trust people and we never refuse an opportunity to discuss the Palestinian cause," he says.
"We went upstairs to one of the hotel rooms and talked about the Palestinian situation for over two hours," says Abu Aita, adding that Brüno seemed serious – although his knowledge was limited.
At the very end of the discussion, Baron Cohen asked a couple of questions about al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, which Abu Aita considered oddly out of place and which he asked the translator to repeat.
Then, when Brüno asked to be kidnapped, Abu Aita says that his actual reply was edited out. "I was angered by the question," says Abu Aita. "I said, first of all I'm not a terrorist. Second, you are a guest here, so I must take care of you until you leave my country."
Abu Aita forgot all about the interview until the the film came out and he started to receive countless calls from outraged Palestinians.
"They ask how I could allow myself to be laughed at in this way, how I could agree to it," he says. "They are angry that I have embarrassed the Palestinian people, because we are being presented in this false, disgusting way."
Abu Aita is standing in the Palestinian parliamentary elections slated for January 2010, and opposition candidates are already using this incident to discredit him. He says it is also damaging for him to appear in a gay film, which features nudity and graphic sex scenes. "With our culture and our heritage we refuse such things," says Abu Aita.
He is well known in the area and several people testify to his good character and good sense of humour. "Brüno can make jokes about anything he wants, but this is not a joke," says Abu Aita. "Calling me a terrorist is not funny – it is lying."
Discussing his plans to sue, the Fatah official says he did not sign release forms for the footage of him which appeared in the film. His lawyer, a Palestinian-Israeli from Nazareth, says that such cases can result in million dollar compensation payouts in the US.
A spokesman for Baron Cohen declined to comment.
Here's the youtube clip:
Yup, Cohen is just the kind of low life you'd expect to speak out against Israel's critics, the surprise is why anyone would now want to listen to or watch him.
The honest zionist is still as elusive as ever.