(photo credit: AP)
As Jewish British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's mockumentary about fictional Kazakh TV reporter Borat rocketed to No. 1 in the US box office Friday, taking in more than $9 million in a limited release, the Central Asian nation's deputy prime minister, Karim Massimov, finished up a week-long round of diplomatic and business meetings in Israel aimed at increasing cooperation between the countries.
Cohen's mother is Israeli, but the irony of Massimov's visit to the Jewish state in light of the controversy surrounding Cohen's satiric film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, seemed lost on local and international journalists, who were content to report on how Kazakh oil funds would be invested in projects in Israel and in the Middle East.
The fact that such a high profile movie portrays Kazakhstan as a nation of anti-Semites who rank women lower than donkeys and drink fermented horse urine seemed to be overlooked.
"Kazakhstan is an oil rich country and it is willing to cooperate more strongly with Israel and other countries in the Middle East," said Massimov. He met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Deputy Premier Shimon Peres and other high-ranking government officials and business people.
He said the relationship between Israel and Kazakhstan was "complimentary," adding that this cooperation should increase.
Massimov said he had come "with a clear message from the president that Kazakhstan was a moderate Muslim country that can offer a positive model to the Middle East."
Olmert agreed, saying that the former Soviet republic was a good example of a moderate Islamic nation.
"Kazakhstan can show a beautiful face of Islam," Olmert said. "Contemporary, ever-developing Kazakhstan is a perfect example of both economic development and interethnic accord that should be followed by more Muslim states."
The stir surrounding Cohen's comic take on Kazakhstan has fallen short of a major diplomatic incident. In the past few months, leading up to the film's release, Kazakh officials have told journalists that the London-born comedian had overstepped the boundaries of humor and caused irreparable damage to Kazakhstan's image.
Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev told the Bild German newspaper last week that the movie lampooned his country in an unacceptable manner.
"Apart from the name of our country and our flag, it has nothing to do with us. I also hope the people in your country will not laugh at us, but that the film will arouse their interest. They should come to our country and get to know the real Kazakhstan," Tokayev said.
In September, Cohen was turned away from the White House when, dressed as his Borat character, he tried to invite "Premier George Walter Bush" to a screening of the movie, according to Reuters. The comedian's stunt was timed to coincide with an official visit by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan's foreign ministry recently ran ads on CNN and in The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune trying to raise the country's profile and to assure the West that, contrary to Borat's claims, theirs is not a nation of drunken anti-Semites.
Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliyev even asked Cohen to visit Kazakhstan to see for himself that his comical skits were completely baseless.
"I'd like to invite Cohen here," he said in an interview in Kazakhstan Today. "He can discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogues."
On Saturday, AFP reported that Kazakhstan's ambassador to Britain, Erlan Idrissov, grudgingly admitted that the Borat film had put his country in the world spotlight.