Watching Yoav Shamir’s Defamation

Via: PULSE.

UPDATE: We have agreed to take down the full video after being contacted by the film’s production company; instead we offer the first ten minutes of this excellent documentary for review purposes and encourage readers to contact them about making the film more widely available. It can still be found at video-sharing sites (VimeoPirate Bay).

Yoav Shamir’s memorable, must-see Defamation is by turns hilarious and disturbing. It recently aired on the UK’s Channel 4 True Stories series. We feature it here in full (watch trailer).

Shamir seeks to investigate whether Judeophobia really exists to anything near the levels the ADL (Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith) claims to combat. This takes him to the US, Israel, Russia, Poland and to several interesting encounters and interviews. In addition to the film’s mainstay shadowing of Abe Foxman to several locations, these include Norman Finkelstein, John Mearsheimer, David Hirsch* and Uri Avnery. Then there’s the smart Rabbi Hecht who contends that Foxman propagates ‘anti Semitism’ “because he makes a living from it … he has to create a problem because he needs a job” (around 31 minute mark) and the couple who admit that the ADL provides them with a forum to explore Jewish identity (44 minute mark).

What is most striking however is the active propagation of fear and threats inside Israel: the brainwashing of the teenagers is extraordinary. They are inculcated to see discrimination where none exists. What we see is a dangerously bellicose culture. More than this, the film points to the consequences of a chauvinist (and, though not explored here,  supremacist) ideology in which Jewish ethnic campaigners like Foxman promote a Jewish identity around the dangerous notion of being always ethnically hated and defamed. The positive outcome is that Defamation ridicules this notion, though it does so indirectly. It challenges Jews to look to the future rather than to a highly selective and toxic representation of the past.

* Though David Hirsch is shown as speaking up for the Palestinians in Defamation, his political stance is rather more complicated than the brief snippet shown. Hirsch is actually quite active in the UK Israel lobby, running a campaign to discredit the growing  Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He was not pleased with the film, to which Shamir had a response.

Choice Excerpts

From Yoav Shamir’s (YS) conversation with Uri Avnery (UA):

YS: Fighting anti-Semitism is a good objective?

UA: I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t know who is serving who anymore. Do they serve us or do we serve them? … None of them fights anti-Semitism. They fight criticism of Israel. These are two totally different things. In America, hardly any anti-Semitism exists. If there was any anti-Semitism, the Lobby would not act the way it does. The phenomenon called anti-Semitism only exists in the Israeli media and in the minds of the Jewish big shots of the world who make a living fighting ‘anti-Semitism’. … The Jews in America never had it better.

YS:  Are you saying anti-Semitism is an Israeli invention? A Jewish invention?

UA: Anti-Semitism today? All in all, yes.  … In America, where Jews are so influential, they are scared of their own shadows. Every moment behind every tree, an anti-Semite hides. Bullshit. There’s nothing like that. … Anti-Semites? You’d need a magnifying glass to find them.

The following excerpt has been made available in Paul Woodward’s excellent review:

“We live with the feeling that death is always with us. Whether that feeling is good or not, I don’t know. It is always hanging over us, and here in Auschwitz you see how it became an industry, an industry of death. The Germans started it all and we are perpetuating it.

I thought a lot about whether this March of the Living is good or bad, this death industry…

We perpetuate death, and that’s why we will never become a normal people, because we emphasize death and what happened. We have to remember, no doubt, but we live too much in it, and it is preventing us from being normal people.”
~ An Israeli assistant class teacher accompanying a party of Israeli teenagers on a March of the Living trip Poland.

“There’s a kind of pathological narcissism, navel contemplation, when you are the richest, wealthiest, most successful ethnic group in the United States — you’ve got the world on a platter — and you sit around and you’re talking about anti-Semitism, it’s just kind of shameful I think.”
~ Norman Finkelstein


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