Defamation Documentary on TV

Last Tuesday saw a broadcast in the UK of Defamation, a documentary by the Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir. The film is a diffuse exploration of perceptions of anti-Semitism among Jews in Israel and abroad, ranging from those who think that it’s an urgent and increasing danger, through to those who argue that the whole problem has been grossly exaggerated in order manipulate young Israelis and as a means to silence criticism of Israel.

Defamation shows that anti-Semitism certainly continues to exist – we meet young black adults on the streets of New York who readily exhort us to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and we are shown a  Chabad-Lubavitcher school bus that had been hit by a stone. In Poland, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defemational League shows Shamir a local good-luck charm: a statuette of a stereotyped Jew clutching a bag of money (shades of Borat). One unexpected moment comes at the beginning of the film, when Shamir’s east European-born Israeli grandmother expresses the view that diaspora Jews are lazy and interested primarily in money, showing just how deeply such attitudes are engrained. In Moscow, Shamir visits the synagogue where eight people were stabbed by a neo-Nazi in 2006; the person he speaks to there is keen to assure him that anti-Semitism is not a problem in Russia – however, Shamir makes no independent investigation of his own, so there is no sense of the rising far-right context in modern Russia.

The film also follows a group of Israeli teenagers on a trip to Poland, and Shamir sees evidence of an exaggerated fear of hostility, instilled by the guides and a secret service protection officier. One teenager exchanges a few words with some elderly Polish men on a park bench, but her friend pulls her away, claiming – incorrectly – that the men were subjecting them to abuse. The teenagers spend their evenings couped up in their hotel, having been warned not to go out lest they are attacked by neo-Nazis. Shown old black-and-white footage of concentration camps, the teenagers are disconnected from what they see, and at the first site they visit in Poland some feel guilty for not being upset. At Auschwitz, there is a remarkable moment of bad taste as they pose for a group photo below the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, saying “Auschwitz” instead of “cheese”, but on viewing the exbihits many of them become traumatised. One of them expresses a new wish to kill “the heirs” of the Nazis. Shamir feels this emphasis on the past is holding Israel back.

The issue of Israel and anti-Semitism is examined mainly through reactions to the book The Israel Lobby, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The book is of course well-known, and Shamir is sympathetic to their complaints that they have been unfairly characterised as anti-Semitic for their thesis about the supposed power of the lobby. We see footage from a conference held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs early in 2008 on the subject of anti-Semitism, which appeared to consist mainly of near-hysterical denunciations of the two authors. The British sociologist David Hirsh is shown causing controversy by asking delegates to acknowledge that anger over the “racism, violence and humiliation” caused by the occupation of Palestinian land also need to be considered, and in argument with an Israeli academic following his presentation he complains that Palestine had been described by other participants as the “anti-nation” (Hirsh has since complained that the footage makes the event appear to have been more right-wing than it actually was). Unfortunately, neither Shamir nor the conference delegates appear to have been interested in serious critiques of The Israel Lobby, such as Walter Russell Mead’s measured but negative review in Foreign Affairs,  or –  from the anti-Zionist left – Bill Weinberg’s deconstruction (see here). The case that criticism of Israel is unfairly characterised as anti-Semitism is also made by Norman Finkelstein, although his distasteful manner (mocking Foxman with a Nazi salute) tends to obscure any reasonable point he might have.

The sections of the film featuring Abraham Foxman are perhaps the most telling. Shamir shadows Foxman and an Anti-Defamation League delegation to Europe; in Rome they are fêted by the mayor and the US Ambassador to the Vatican as a prelude to meeting the Pope, and in Ukraine they meet a high-level delegation of government officials. We’re told that Ukraine is hoping to make closer links with the USA, and a meeting with Foxman is hoped to facilitate this. Troublingly, Foxman tells Shamir that

They do believe, to some extent, that we can make a difference in Washington, and we’re not going to convince them otherwise.

Foxman admits that this is “the other side” to anti-Semitism, but he shows no reservations about perpetuating beliefs that in other contexts he decries.

The parts of Defamation are greater than the whole; it seems to be several different documentaries spliced rather unevenly together, each of which deserved further treatment. What there is, though, is worth watching, and for the next few weeks can be seen in the UK here.

9 Responses

  1. Talk about looking in all the wrong places. Point yourslef towards a mosque bookstore ( pick anyone of ’em!) and paruse the shelves. You’ll come across The Protocols ( and countless variantions on the theme) in a new york minute.

    Those darn Sikhs!

  2. “The Holocaust” is an ideological representation of the Nazi holocaust. Like most ideologies, it bears a connection, if tenuous, with reality. The Holocaust is not an arbitrary, but rather an internally coherent construct. Its central dogmas sustain significant political and class interests. Indeed, The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world s most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a ‘victim’ state, and the most successful ethnic group in the United States has likewise acquired victim status. Considerable benefits accrue to this specious victimhood – in particular, immunity to criticism, however justified. ” (Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry published by Verso, London and New York (2000) (p 3))

    Israel and the raving band of loonies that support Apartheid Israel use the holocaust as a club and a shield to divert any attention away from Isael’s planned and ongoing systematic ethnic cleansing campaign against the indigenous Palestinians.
    A murderous extermination that is causing her supplier of welfare money, the USA, all sorts of problems.

    And for what? So Israel can maintain ideological and racial purity? Didn’t another nation try that in the 20th Century and didn’t that lead to a world war?

    Here in the States, it has become a religion, with over 150 holocaust museums.

    Just don’t ask any questions about the holocaust or bring up other holocausts like the Jewish Bolshevik slaughter of over 20 million Russian peasants.

    And if someone asks you who is the greatest mass murderer of the 20th Century, tell them it was Genrikh Yagoda, a Russian Jew and disciple of Stalin.

    Stalin’s Jews,7340,L-3342999,00.html

  3. You are a jerk and a lunatic, cf

    My, my, my, such eloquence! Are you a product of American schooling, because your composition surely seems to be a graduate of that amazing type of education!!

  4. It’s a shame they didn’t deal with Foxman’s denial of the Armenian genocide to appease Turkey. Really interesting film still.

  5. Dear hardindr:

    OK, I jumped in a lake, now what? Maybe you should read my other post, entitled, “What is Wrong with the Muslim World?”before offering any more sporting advice.

    Or you could just take the regular Zionist route when confronted with cold, hard facts; deny, tell more lies and call the other person names, sometimes even accuse them of being a pedophile.

    Or make threats to their physical being, as some clownish lovers of Israel have done in the past on my blog.

    Big tough guys that made me piss my pants, really.

    I use my REAL name and those jerks use pseudonyms. Sort of like being some spoiled smart ass that calls other kids names, then runs and hides behind his mommy’s skirt.

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