KAZAKHSTAN ADOPTS BORAT PHRASE FOR TOURISM CAMPAIGN
Sacha Baron Cohen
Kazakhstan's tourism board has adopted the Borat catchphrase "very nice" in its new advertising campaign. The phrase is used by the film character Borat, a fictional journalist from Kazakhstan.
The first Borat film caused outrage in the country, and authorities threatened to sue creator Sacha Baron Cohen. But the country's tourism board has now embraced Borat as a perfect marketing tool - particularly as a second Borat film has just been released.
It has released a number of short advertisements that highlight the country's scenery and culture. The people in the video then use Borat's catchphrase "very nice".
"Kazakhstan's nature is very nice. Its food is very nice. And its people, despite Borat's jokes to the contrary, are some of the nicest in the world," Kairat Sadvakassov, deputy chairman of Kazakh Tourism, said in a statement.
The tourism board were persuaded to use the catchphrase by American Dennis Keen and his friend Yermek Utemissov. They pitched the idea and produced the advertisements, according to the New York Times.
The response from social media users has been positive with many saying the advertisements capitalize on the film and send a positive message.
One said: "Well done. Great way to take the publicity created by a comedian and turn it to a positive message."
The second film itself has had a mixed reception. The Kazakh American Association has slammed the film for promoting "racism, cultural appropriation and xenophobia".
In a letter sent to Amazon, which has distribution rights to the film, the group asked: "Why is our small nation fair game for public ridicule?"
In Kazakhstan, more than 100,000 people signed an online petition demanding a cancellation of the film after a trailer was released.
"They completely desecrate and humiliate Kazakhstan and the dignity of the Kazakh nation," the petition said.
Others on social media branded the film as a "stupid American comedy".
When the first Borat film was released in 2006, authorities banned the film and release of it on DVD and people were blocked from visiting its website.
Officials felt the movie portrayed Kazakhstan as a racist, sexist and primitive country.
In the film Borat bragged about incest and rape. He also joked that the former Soviet nation had the cleanest prostitutes in the world.
The film also caused outrage in Romania where an entire village said they were "humiliated" by the film.
The village was used as the backdrop for Borat's house. Residents said they were told the film was going to be a documentary, but instead were portrayed as backward people and criminals.
Years later, however, the Kazakhstan government thanked Sacha Baron Cohen for boosting tourism in the country.
In 2012, the foreign minister at the time, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, said he was "grateful" to Borat for "helping attract tourists" to the country, adding that 10 times more people were applying for visas to go there.
ISRAEL UNBLOCKS BIG IMMIGRATION OF
Israel has approved a plan to bring 2,000 Ethiopian Jews to the country, marking a major step towards ending a decades-long saga over their fate.
They are part of about 8,000 members of a community who have been waiting to come to Israel for years.
Known as Falash Mura, their right to settle in Israel is a contentious issue as their background rules out automatic citizenship available to most Jews.
Secret operations brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 1980s.
Many members of the Falash Mura have familial connections to that community, which is known as the Beta Israel. However, they have only been allowed to emigrate to Israel on a case-by-case basis, and thousands remain in camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
The Falash Mura community descends from members of the Beta Israel who were converted to Christianity by European missionaries in the late 1800s. They have since returned to practising Judaism but are not officially recognised by Israel's interior ministry as fully Jewish.
The issue of whether they should be allowed to come to Israel at all is a divisive one, even among Ethiopian Jews in Israel. While some Ethiopian Jews in Israel support their right to settle there, others object, seeing them as non-Jewish Ethiopians.
Israel's recently appointed Ethiopian-born Immigration Minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata, welcomed the cabinet's decision, tweeting that she felt "very happy and excited" at the news.
She has previously vowed to bring the rest of the Falash Mura community to Israel as soon as the end of next year.
Ethiopian Jews were first brought to Israel from refugee camps in Sudan in a series of secret operations in the early 1980s by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency on the orders of the then Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Further operations followed, concluding with a mass airlift from Ethiopia in 1991.
The Ethiopian Jews' integration in Israel has been challenging, with the community suffering disproportionately high levels of unemployment and poverty as well as discrimination, although their situation has shown signs of improvement in recent years. –BBCi
COMMEMORATING TREE OF LIFE
Recently the Jewish community marked the 2nd anniversary of the tragic Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the worst attack on a synagogue in the history of the United States.
Last year, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, head rabbi of the Tree of Life synagogue, was awarded the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Medal of Valor for his heroism, courage and bravery for his actions during and after the massacre at his synagogue where 11 people were murdered.
This year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center will commemorate today’s anniversary with Pittsburgh’s Jewish community as well as with thousands of volunteers who protect Jewish communities around the United States:
• Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC Associate Dean and Global Social Action Director will be briefing over 4,000 trained volunteers across the US, many of whom dedicate their time to protect their synagogues and communities.
• Mark Weitzman, SWC Director of Government Affairs, will be speaking and moderating the official program commemorating the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings with the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center remains vigilant and steadfast in its work to fight today’s rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate in the US and around the world.
GAL GADOT'S CLEOPATRA FILM SPARKS 'WHITEWASHING' CLAIM
Plans for a new movie about Cleopatra have sparked a controversy before filming has even started.
The role of the famed ancient Egyptian ruler is to be played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, best known for her Hollywood depictions of Wonder Woman.
The announcement has led to a row on social media with some alleging "cultural whitewashing", where white actors portray people of colour.
Some have said the role should instead go to an Arab or African actress.
Cleopatra was descended from an Ancient Greek family of rulers - the Ptolemy dynasty. She was born in Egypt in 69BC and ruled the Nile kingdom when it was a client state of Rome.
Gadot herself reportedly commissioned the film and will co-produce it.
The row reflects a growing debate in Hollywood over casting and identity, and whether actors should play characters of different ethnicities to themselves.
Writer on Africa, James Hall, said he thought the filmmakers should find an African actress, of any race.
US writer Morgan Jerkins tweeted that Cleopatra should be played by someone "darker than a brown paper bag" as that would be more "historically accurate".
"Gal Gadot is a wonderful actress, but there is an entire pool of North African Actresses to pick from. Stop whitewashing my history!" posted another user..
Other social media users argued that Cleopatra was more Greek or Macedonian than Arab or African.
The row over Gal Gadot as Cleopatra draws on contemporary arguments over national culture, religion and gender politics.
But the ancient Middle East wouldn't conform to many of our modern views of identity.
Cleopatra was on the throne well before Christianity, for example, and centuries ahead of the Arab conquests of North Africa - she was the last of the Ptolemaic rulers; born in Egypt, descended from Ancient Greeks and dominated by Rome.
But there are plenty more problems with popular depictions of the ancient Nile Queen - often cast as a powerful seductress replete with a sensual, oriental mystique.
That image - including Elizabeth Taylor's famous portrayal - is likely a myth handed down to us by Latin love poets years after Cleopatra's death.
The thousands of depictions of her through the ages are "based on a perilous series of deductions from fragmentary or flagrantly unreliable evidence" according to the British historian Mary Beard.
So little is really known, she adds, that Cleopatra should appear to us today as "the queen without a face".
Israeli commentators suggested some criticism was based in anti-Semitism.
The Jerusalem Post journalist Seth Frantzman said it made no sense to exclude Jews from playing roles from the Middle East, "when Jews are primarily a people from the Middle East either with distant or recent roots.
"The idea that casting should exclude Jews is shameful and shows a lack of education for the commentators," he said.
Israel's embassy in Washington tweeted: "One icon playing another! Excited for this new take on Cleopatra!"
Gal Gadot's spokesperson declined to comment on the row. –BBCi
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