Anyone familiar with the macho Israeli military man can’t help laughing at Sacha Baron Cohen’s spot-on performance as Col. Erran Morad in the now-viral excerpt from his new series “Who Is America,” in which he ropes right-wing gun advocates into endorsing a scheme for arming small children to protect their own schools.
From the swagger to the exaggerated hand movements to the ultra-guttural accent, the persona is spot-on. “We start a program in Yis-ra-el for 'Kinderguardians,'” the fictitious Israeli officer intones. “We train the children from the age of 16 down to the age of 3 my son was in the very first program, may he rest in peace. He died doing what I love.”
Baron Cohen’s first mark in the sketch, gun advocate Philip Van Cleave – who goes on to help him advertise absurd firearms for kids including “Uzi-corns” – actually believes him.
Less amusing than the performance by the English comedian/actor/screenwriter, however, is the way in which his gambit again reflects the persistent misconception among pro-Israel American conservatives, in which they fantasize about Israel as a gun-loving country where the fact that everyone is armed keeps it safe. So much so, apparently, that advocates like Van Cleave and a long line of U.S. politicians could buy the idea that their government endorses the idea of pistol-packing 5-year-olds.
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“I’m thinking to myself this is kind of crazy, but it is Israel, and Israel is strong on defense,” said former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh (Rep.) in a CNN interview on Saturday, where he sheepishly described being duped by Baron Cohen into reading from a teleprompter, describing a fake incident in which a 4-year-old child in Israel wrestled a gun away from a terrorist in his classroom and held him at bay “as an example of how Israel trains and arms preschool kids on how to use firearms, and boy – shouldn’t we do that in America.”
It was this false image of Israel as a gun-lovers' paradise that also led conservative Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, to declare last February after the shooting in Parkland, Florida in February that “Israel pretty much eliminated” school shootings through profiling, not gun control."
He was immediately overwhelmed by responses pointing out that Israel, in fact, has extremely tough gun laws.
Alon Pinkas, a former consul general of Israel in New York, stressed after the Parkland massacre that Israelis “don’t worship guns, we don’t sell assault rifles to people, we don’t have a genius creation like the NRA, we don’t regard every bunch of guys as a ‘well-regulated militia’ and we’re pretty much done fighting the British.”
Out of a population of over eight million, only 145,000 Israelis hold valid gun permits, not including soldiers, police officers and others whose jobs require weapons. Gun permits are valid for three years, after which they must be renewed or the firearm is forfeited. To obtain a weapon license, among other things, one must be at least 21 years old and in good health, and must prove a need for protection, such as residence near or in a West Bank settlement or on a border.
Recently, a move to relax regulations and allow an additional 35,000 to 40,000 individuals to apply for permits – which would bring the number of Israeli civilians carrying guns to almost 200,000 – sparked concern. In response, a Knesset committee pushed forward even tighter regulations that would expand and improve firearm instruction.
Acquiring and keeping a gun permit in Israel is an involved, expensive and complex process, involving months of security checks, training courses, and mental and physical examinations, as former IDF sniper Yael Shachar described in Haaretz several years ago, explaining why school shootings like those in the United States don’t happen in Israel.
Of U.S. gun laws, she wrote: "There is something seriously wrong about a system where a disturbed young man can acquire deadly weapons as easily as buying a new laptop. Where children can treat firearms as casually as toys.”
By contrast, Israelis “know about death and we know about weapons of war, but we don't fetishize them,” added Shachar.
So anyone who believes there’s a grain of truth in Sacha Baron Cohen’s satire should remember: We do not put them in the hands of children.