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Sacha Baron Cohen’s Col. Erran Morad another sign of Israel’s growing isolation

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Col. Erran Morad, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Israeli character from his new Showtime series “Who Is America?”, is a die-hard counterterrorism expert hell-bent on sharing his tactics with conservative America. But at the same time that Baron Cohen’s latest alter-ego is revealing the wingnuttery of American politicians, he is also stirring a debate in Israel, as people there are realizing that the joke might also be on them.

While there is consensus among Israelis on the accuracy of the archetype—the heavy accent, the flagrant machismo, the inherent misogyny—opinions across social media and the press are divided as to whether Baron Cohen, until now a beloved “son of Israel,” is turning his back on his mother’s country of origin. While some think that Baron Cohen’s parody is a chance to reflect on Israel’s growing militarism and international isolation, others like Shmuel Rosner (Does Sacha Baron Cohen Understand Israel? August 9th) complain that the character misrepresents today’s Israeli society and brings harm to the country’s already struggling image in the world. Perhaps Rosner should seize this opportunity to look at the Morad within himself.

Everyone in Israel knows a Morad, Rosner admits, but he also claims that these types are a breed heading towards extinction. He recalls a story about a Morad-like retired Israeli officer whom he heard lecturing a Canadian audience in a heavy accent, “You know, we could throw all the Arabs into the Jordan. But the world won’t let” (the typos are in the original script.) That reference to the officer’s overt desire to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their homeland, Rosner tells us, has become a running joke in his family—something to be repeated in any number of circumstances: “I truly tried to convince the pigeons to get off the balcony, I might say to my wife, ‘but the world won’t let.’” A cute joke maybe, but focusing on the officer’s broken English instead of his appalling genocidal plans—now rapidly infiltrating the political mainstream in the country—suggests that the relevance of Baron Cohen’s Morad character is either something that is over Rosner’s head or that he has chosen to actively ignore.

The same might be said for the irony of Rosner boasting that his two soldier sons thoroughly approve of Baron Cohen’s jokes. To defend his point that the military is “not as dominant in Israeli culture as it used to be,” although it lives in his house, Rosen cites Israel’s capitalistic economy (which is responsible for the third highest gap between rich and poor in the world) and its focus on “trade and hi-tech innovation” as a proof of the country’s turn towards normalcy. However, Rosner should know that Israel’s tech industry rose chiefly from the army’s storied cyber spy Unit 8200 and that a large portion of Israeli startups specialize in cyber warfare and counterterrorism (Israel is the world’s largest exporter of military drones, and second only to the US in cyber defence deals according to a recent report). Here, too, Baron Cohen is on point when he shows Morad offering creative technological solutions to detecting and killing terrorists (“I once killed a terrorist with an iPad.”)

Of course it would be absurd to claim that all Israelis are as trigger-happy and overly muscular Krav Maga fanatics as Morad. Like any other nation, Israel has its soft-spoken poets and artists. But satire works by means of exaggeration, and the undeniable truth is that there is a certain degree of Morad implanted in every Israeli, insofar as every Jewish citizen is a product of a social indoctrination that begins at school and culminates in a mandatory army service (the recruit rates move between 65%-75% of all high school graduates.) This militarized ethos continues after the army through the country’s permanent state of heightened alert and its ever-present existential fear.

One of the Morads that I had personal experience with was my high school principal Rami—a retired Israeli army commander who spoke in short sentences and showed up to work every day wearing army dog tags around his neck and brandishing a loaded gun strapped to his waist. Rami is one many retired army commanders often appointed (or “parachuted” in local lingo) as high school principles to help raise the next generation of motivated soldiers. But indoctrination begins ever earlier than school: a recent government-sponsored ad to encourage maternity starts on Israeli children before they’re even born. The ad shows a fetus dressed in an army uniform saluting in his mother’s belly. A caption says: “Recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence [a medal of honor for soldiers], 2038.” In a social climate like this, how is possible to argue that the spirit of Morad is an “effigy from the ’50s or the ‘60s”?

In a Twitter page created for the character, Morad greets his followers with “Boker Tov [good morning], my name Colonel Erran Morad. Presenter, Kill or Be Killed. Anti-terrorist expert.” That phrase (“kill or be killed”) is a not a figment of Cohen’s imagination, but the actual mantra of an entire nation, originating from the Talmudic instruction “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” Rosner reaffirms this saying when he suggests that “We still have dangerous enemies, so maybe keeping this stereotype going is useful.” But it’s naïve to dismiss it as a mere stereotype. Anti-Arab sentiments among the Jewish population in Israel has reached  record highs. The new Jewish Nation-State Law limiting the right of self-determination in “the land of Israel” to the Jewish People and codifying settlement expansion as a “natural right,” has been met with the support of the majority of Jewish Israelis. Last April, thousands rallied in Tel Aviv in support of a soldier who shot and killed an already neutralized and wounded Palestinian in Hebron. The protestors carried signs reading “Kill them all” and “Death to Arabs.” The Morads are still out there, and they are even more toxic and destructive than in Baron Cohen’s comical interpretation.

Luckily, it is not only the world that “doesn’t let” Israel go rampant, but also a increasing number of Jewish Americans. Baron Cohen’s satire joins Natalie Portman’s recent cancellation of her participation in an award ceremony in Israel and an unprecedented Op-Ed by Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, who warned Israel against its self-destructive patterns at its 70th anniversary. Rosner finds Morad’s character difficult to watch not because it misrepresents Israel, but because it’s too accurate to bear. It’s a mirror much too bright. Instead of remaining in willful blindness and resorting to defensive Hasbara-like tactics, Rosner should listen to the warnings of others.

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Palestinian writer and artist based in New York City.

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19 Responses

  1. bcg on August 14, 2018, 11:07 am

    Alas, Col. Morrad is training U.S. police –

    “The Israeli forces mowing down unarmed Palestinian protesters also train U.S. police forces that brutalize communities of color.”

    • Arby on August 14, 2018, 1:40 pm

      Old news. Give Jeff Halper’s “War Against The People” a read.

  2. Arby on August 14, 2018, 1:39 pm

    “The new Jewish Nation-State Law limiting the right of self-determination in “the land of Israel” to the Jewish People and codifying settlement expansion as a “natural right,” has been met with the support of the majority of Jewish Israelis. ”

    Israel is ruined. –

    Chomsky and Herman refer to countries where most of the country supports it’s fascist ruling class as “fascist,” and countries where fascism is imposed on the populace against its wishes as “sub-fascist.”

  3. RoHa on August 15, 2018, 1:48 am

    ‘it is not only the world that “doesn’t let” Israel go rampant, ‘

    I haven’t seen the world try to hard to stop it.

  4. Qualtrough on August 15, 2018, 1:50 am

    I think the even bigger story is the appallingly craven behavior of so many US politicians in currying favor with anything remotely connected to Israel. To the point that in two of these skits you can see one of them actually simulating fellatio with “Col. Morad”, while the other drops his trousers and offers up his buttocks to him. You have to see this to believe it. The relationship between US politicians and Israel summed up in two short skits.

    • Misterioso on August 15, 2018, 11:30 am


      “I think the even bigger story is the appallingly craven behavior of so many US politicians in currying favor with anything remotely connected to Israel.”


      A recent example:

      “U.S. Military aid to Israel Set to Exceed $3.8 Billion, or $23,000 Per Year for Every Jewish Family Living in Israel – For the next 10 Years”

      • on August 15, 2018, 12:05 pm

        This datapoint should be publicized to the greatest extent possible.
        Don’t you think if average American families grasped the extent of subvnetion aid to Israeli families they would go through the roof?
        If they grasped that Israeli families, and Jewish families that emigrate to Israel (from the USA and elsewhere), get hugely subsidized housing while we have a homeless crisis here in the USA, they would go through the roof. No one is telling American citizens these things. How to get this message out?

        I have a friend who converted to J and married a J and they went off to Israel, where they have 7 children and live in a settler colony, and the grandson is in the army shooting at Palestinians at the Gaza fence. She called it border, and I corrected her. Since she is a friend, I can’t say more than that. She is of course worried about her grandchildren. No thought for the grandchildren of Palestinian men and women.

      • genesto on August 15, 2018, 12:16 pm

        Hope every Jewish family enjoys the borrowed US tax dollars that are funding them to the tune of $23,000 per. Maybe they can use the money for one of those expensive Antarctic adventures!

        Of course, they will have to pry it away from the IOF’s hot little hands first. Good luck with that!

  5. Jackdaw on August 15, 2018, 11:41 am

    One problem with your cult, is that it lacks a sense of humour.

    • annie on August 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

      jack! for blessed people humor to be found in anything — even genocide!

    • genesto on August 15, 2018, 12:18 pm

      Please see my comment above. I thought it was rather funny.

      • annie on August 15, 2018, 1:11 pm

        just read it genesto!

    • annie on August 15, 2018, 12:31 pm

      what a coincidence i just discovered. following a link in the author’s bio and landing at his site i noticed the first article, Curator of Israeli Exhibit Stolen Arab Art Explains It Is a “Hostage-Taking Situation” an interview with the ‘curator/artistic director’ Omer Krieger:

      H: Are you taking hostage of these works to force the artists who made them to talk to you?

      OK: That’s right. We want to break the boycott. Real theft is usually something that people want to hide. Here we have it in our title. This is a performance rather than a theft. We want to get the visitors in trouble, to participate in the theft. I hope that the artists will appreciate the sophistication of this action, that they will understand its purpose and create contact with us. I’m sure they have enough sense of humor to understand [what] we tried to do.


    • Mooser on August 15, 2018, 12:41 pm

      “One problem with your cult, is that it lacks a sense of humour.”

      Oh, I wouldn’t say that, “Jackdaw”. Have you been following what has happened to the various public figures Cohen pranked?
      I’m sure they appreciate having Israelis laugh at them.

    • eljay on August 15, 2018, 12:43 pm

      || Jackdaw: One problem with your cult, is that it lacks a sense of humour. ||

      There must be something about advocating, engaging in, justifying and/or defending oppression, colonialism, (war) crimes and supremacism that puts a little extra spring in the step of Zio-cultists.

      (But there’s no question that Zionists would immediately lose their shit if they were to be on the receiving end of the sort of evil they currently dish out and in which they seem to find humour.)

  6. oldgeezer on August 15, 2018, 12:41 pm

    Ve Vill Make You laff

  7. Boomer on August 15, 2018, 1:26 pm

    In addition to the official financial, military and diplomatic support from the U.S. government, and the rhetorical support from our elected officials and unelected media figures, there is considerable support from other sources, including private donations, many of which are tax advantaged.

    And there is another sort of “support” in the form of information used to build wealth. Each year our intelligence agencies release an assessment of foreign cyberthreats. Media attention is always focused on the discussion of Russia and China, with good reason. But the report routinely notes that other countries also attack. France does so largely looking for commercially valuable information. Israel does that too, either for technology to develop in Israel, or for U.S. companies to invest in based on inside information. And Israel is involved in social/political manipulation. Here’s a story from a few years ago, but pattern doesn’t change. This is an arena where we “do let.”

  8. eduardoben on August 15, 2018, 5:00 pm

    Meir Kahane, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, a notoriously racist Brooklyn-born Orthodox rabbi who founded the violent Jewish Defense League in the US – and who was an advocate of Jewish violence and revenge against Arabs – was assassinated on November 5th, 1990 in New York City by an Egyptian-Arab gunman. It was reported that there were more than 10,000 mostly Jewish mourners marching in his funeral procession. At least one very large banner carried by some of the marchers read: “Death to the Arabs.” Not death to the Arabs who killed Kahane, but apparently all Arabs. A photo of the banner was carried in several US newspapers but not one Jewish organization denounced the racism that was being displayed on that banner. The Anti-Defamation League said nothing. So the racism described in this article was mirrored in the United States at least as early as 1990.

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