(photo credit: Courtesy )
It's unclear whether his Mossad retirement benefit card will be confiscated, but former spy and current political analyst Yossi Alpher is certainly feeling sheepish after being fooled by actor Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat.
Cohen was in Jerusalem two weeks ago filming scenes for his next movie, Bruno, based on a character the British comedian played in his Da Ali G Show. In that show, Cohen played Bruno as a flamboyant Austrian fashion and celebrity journalist, regularly interviewing unwitting members of the public who weren't aware he wasn't a real person.
Cohen's producers contacted Alpher, a writer on Israel-related strategic issues and co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian political Web site Bitterlemons, and asked him to be interviewed along with a Palestinian for a documentary that would explain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the youth of the world.
"The producers explained that our interviewer, a German rock star, was the perfect person to establish strong communication with our audience," Alpher wrote in a column that appeared in The Forward.
Alpher - who served in the Israel Defense Forces as an intelligence officer, followed by 12 years' service in the Mossad and senior positions at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and the American Jewish Committee's Israel/Middle East office - realized something might not be quite kosher when the "rock star" interviewee brought up Hamas:
"Vait, vait. Vat's zee connection between a political movement and food? Vy humous?" asked the interviewer in heavily accented English, echoing the obsession with the chickpea spread shared by Adam Sandler's Zohan. "Yesterday I had to throw away my pita bread because it vas dripping humous. Unt it's too high in carbohydrates."
The absurd Hamas-humous confusion went on for several minutes, and Alpher began to smell a rat, but stuck with the interview nonetheless - thus joining the long list of prominent figures down the years who have sought to maintain their gravitas while being tricked by one of Cohen's ridiculous personas.
It got worse, Alpher acknowledged: "Then the interviewer declared, 'Your conflict is not so bad. Jennifer-Angelina is worse.'"
Alpher and his Palestinian partner exchanged puzzled glances at the comparison of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie fighting over Brad Pitt, but because they had both received a fee for their appearance, and still hadn't completely internalized that their interviewer was not exactly who he seemed, they soldiered on.
"We played it straight and square... We smiled at the idiotic questions and answered them patiently... We knew something ludicrous was happening but couldn't quite figure it out," Alpher wrote. "Our rock-star host concluded with a mind-boggling song about the epic Middle East conflict between 'Jews and Hindus.' At the crescendo, he grabbed our hands and joined them with his."
Only after the completion of the interview did Alpher realize he'd been had, and that Cohen in the guise of Bruno had struck again.
Alpher had signed a release form before being filmed for the movie, due to be released in May 2009, so he won't likely be filing a lawsuit against Cohen like some of the comedian's patsies in 2006's smash hit Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Trying to make the best of the experience, Alpher asserted, "We ourselves were not being ridiculed - only the conflict that occupies and preoccupies us."