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Israeli Documentary Challenges Jewish Responses to Anti-Semitism

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Behind the Aegis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-18-09 04:02 AM
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Israeli Documentary Challenges Jewish Responses to Anti-Semitism
Yoav Shamirs provocative new documentary, Defamation (Ha Shmatsa), suggests that todays anti-Semitism, however pernicious, reflects little more than petty ignorance. The Israeli filmmakers central inquiry is whether the contemporary Jewish response to anti-Semitism is disproportionate in its force, and, if so, whether that response is detrimental to Jewish interests. That the two-part question is asked so forthrightly is enough to make Defamation, which First Run Features will open in Los Angeles Nov. 20, the most important Jewish movie of the year.

Shamir began the project in response to criticism of his earlier documentary, Checkpoint, a study of the impact of Israeli military checkpoints on Palestinian lives. A Jewish-American journalist referred to Shamir as the Israeli Mel Gibson, implying that his censure of Israeli policy made him an anti-Semite. Recognizing that as an Israeli he had never directly experienced anti-Semitism, the naive but inquisitive filmmaker set off on a globetrotting mission to understand the term and its many uses. Almost immediately, he was led to Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who granted Shamir unprecedented access to the ADL offices and allowed him to tag along on leadership missions to Europe. Foxman would soon regret the gesture. In a statement issued earlier this summer, after the film won the Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, the ADL denounced Defamation as neither enlightening, nor edifying, nor compelling. It distorts the prevalence and impact of anti-Semitism and cheapens the Holocaust.

I think I was very fair with the ADL, Shamir said, speaking to The Jewish Journal by phone from his home in Tel Aviv. And they were fair with me, about giving me access and letting me do my own thing. I respect them for that. They truly believe that what they do is the greatest thing for Israel and for the Jewish people in general. I disagree with them.


One of the most provocative scenes in the film concerns Shamirs interview with Norman G. Finkelstein, the controversial scholar and author of The Holocaust Industry (Verso, 2001), which argues that the Holocaust has been exploited for use as an ideological weapon by Israel. The film positions Finkelstein as Foxmans intellectual antagonist; both men are sons of Holocaust survivors, but they have taken their personal missions to opposite extremes. In the film, Finkelstein offers a reasoned critique of the ADLs project, but then seriously undercuts his argument by making a Nazi salute to the camera and referring to Foxman as worse than Hitler. Reached by e-mail, Finkelstein wrote, I did not see the film and dont intend to. I am told it depicts me as a lunatic.

Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who has not yet seen Defamation, told The Journal, Theres a great danger when you legitimize them. A person like Finkelstein ... self-hating Jews. It might make for a more interesting film. I understand. People say, Thats interesting I want to see what this guy has to say. But we legitimize him.

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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Nov-21-09 01:59 AM
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1. Interesting.
I, too, often ask why "Why are people always picking on Israel?"

There are so many nations in the world with misery and corruption yet Israel is the one under a magnifying glass. On DU, too.
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