Mar 10, 2011
With the recent media outcry against Charlie Sheen (who recently revealed that he is Jewish) for supposedly making antisemitic remarks, it seemed like the perfect timing when I received a copy (courtesy of First Run Features) of the 2009 documentary Defamation in the mail. Defamation has deservedly won Best Documentary Feature Film at the 2009 Asian Pacific Screen Awards, on top of receiving wide praise from critics around the world. Of course, the Anti-Defamation League - the organization that is the central subject of the documentary - has condemned the documentary because they believe it "belittles the issue (of antisemitism)....and cheapens the Holocaust." After watching Defamation, it will be apparent to the viewer that by utilizing the historical suffering of Jews as a weapon to stifle any legitimate criticism against Israeli atrocities committed against Palestinians, as well as the stranglehold AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby has over American foreign policy, it is in fact the ADL that compromises serious claims of antisemitism. During the beginning of Defamation, director Yoav Shamir admits that despite hearing about antisemitism and Nazis for what seemed to be everyday during his entire life as an Israeli, he has never personally experienced antisemitism. At the start of Defamation, Shamir states that his objective with documentary is to find out whether or not certain Jewish organizations (most specifically the ADL) are misusing the charge of antisemitism as a way to discredit all criticism of Israel and to see if there is any legitimacy to the claim that Jews are too preoccupied with the past (fixating on the Holocaust and historical antisemitism in general). As you learn early on in Defamation, it does not take Yoav Shamir long to discover the "defaming" answers to his borderline "blasphemous" inquirers.
Not too far into Defamation, Yoav Shamir interviews his 90+ year old grandmother regarding her thoughts on antisemitism and Judaism in general. Holding nothing back, grandma Shamir matter-of-factly states "Jews love money. Jews are crooks." Shamir's eccentric grandmother then goes on to discuss how she became an early Zionist (and eventually an Israeli) due the fact that her family felt Jewish nationalism was the only safe option for the Jews. The father of modern political Zionism, Theodore Herzl, an atheist that dressed like a cosmopolitan dandy, was originally a German nationalist (during his early adulthood he was a member of the German Burschenschaft-a nationalist fraternity that various Nazi leaders were also members of) who advocated the total assimilation (what some Jews have modernly described as the "silent Holocaust") of European Jewry. After following the infamous Dreyfus affair, on top of hearing negative remarks about the racial character of Jews from people like German philosopher Eugen Dühring (the first person to criticize Jews from a racialist perspective), Herzl came to the conclusion that Jews were a different race from Germans, and decided to utilize the German nationalist ideals he previously subscribed to in his codification of modern political Zionism; an idea that sought to give heroism and honor to the Jews in the spirit of King David's biblical Israel. Showing her true commitment to Herzl's original ideas, Grandma Shamir criticizes those Jews that live abroad. Grandma Shamir unapologetically remarks that Jews who reside outside of Israel are criminals who take advantage of their host nations by the way of the money business (usury, interest, selling liquor, etc.). According to Grandma Shamir, the prospect of having to actually work in Israel scares most Jews away. Out of all the staunch self-proclaimed Zionists featured in Defamation; Grandma Shamir seems to be the only one who has strictly adhered to Theodore's Herzl's original ideal.
After paying a visit to Shamir's bitter yet sweet Grandmother, Yoav Shamir travels abroad to meet ADL director Abraham Foxman at the group's main NYC headquarters. According to the ADL, around 1,500 cases of antisemitism against Jews are documented every year. Upon questioning the bigwigs of the ADL, Shamir soon realizes that most documented cases of antisemitism are dubious at best. According to the ADL, whenever a work place denies a Jewish person a day-off from work on a Hebrew holiday, it is indubitably an act of antisemitism. I am sure most America people will agree that virtually all employers demand their employees to work on certain holidays. After questioning various individuals at the ADL, Shamir does not find one case that involves a serious form (like rape, murder, beatings, victim of a suicide bomber, etc.) of antisemitism. Throughout Defamation, Shamir shows clips of a trip he took with a group of Israeli high school students to Poland. Shortly after arriving at Poland, the Israeli teens almost immediately begin to hallucinate imagery antisemitic attacks in various absurd and downright nonsensical forms. After talking to three old Polish men, two Israeli girls completely imagine that the elderly men have mocked Israel and called them "monkeys/donkeys." An Israeli boy makes the claim that Polish soldiers "move like Nazis" and have angry faces similar to the kind of genocidal SS soldiers you would find in a Steven Spielberg film. During his trip with the Israeli teens, Shamir makes it glaringly clear that the fear mongering tactics of groups like the ADL have completely distorted the worldviews of these impressionable Israeli adolescents to such a degree that like Pavlov's dogs, they have involuntary negative reflex responses to any person or place that is not 100% Kosher.
Defamation also features a variety of "academic antisemites." Two highly reputable college professors - John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt - received a public condemnation from the ADL for their co-authored book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, a New York Times Best Seller that reveals the crucial influence AIPAC has over American foreign policy. Even more absurd is the case of Norman Finkelstein, the son of two Jewish Holocaust survivors, who lost his job (after being denied tenure through the powerful influence of intellectual rival Alan Dershowitz) as a professor at DePaul University, after writing the book Beyond Chutzpah; a work that counters Alan Dershowitz's claim that the Israeli's have an excellent human rights record. In 2008, after arriving at Ben Gurion International airport in Te Aviv, Israel, Finkelstein was arrested (and detained for 24 hours) and eventually shipped back to Amsterdam (his point of origin). Norman Finkelstein had been banned from Israel for 10 years for visiting Lebanese families during the 2006 Lebanon War. After being attacked by two of the biggest names in American Zionism - Alan Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman - Finkelstein is undoubtedly now hated by the Jewish diaspora in a manner comparable to that of Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (who was kicked out of Judaism). In Defamation, Abe Foxman describes Jewish critics (referring to Finkelstein) of Israel as "insecure Jews." Of course, Foxman's derogatory statement against Jewish critics of Israel seem like a blatant projection on his part when you consider what religious Orthodox Jews have to say about the ADL's interpretation of "antisemitism." Throughout Defamation, a number of religious Orthodox Jews remark that the ADL is a money making scam that is perpetuated by nonreligious/mostly atheistic Jews. To add credence to the remarks of the Orthodox Jews, members of the ADL openly admit in Defamation that they get their greatest sense of Jewish identity, not by studying the Judaic texts of the Torah of the Talmud, but from remembering the Holocaust and historical antisemitism.
At the very least, Defamation is an honest documentary that respectfully analyzes the most critical issues regarding post-World War II Jewry. After finishing the documentary, I remembered an interesting passage that I read in the novel My First Two Thousand Years, written by German-American propagandist George Sylvester Viereck and Jewish novelist Paul Eldridge. In the book, a character remarks that it is strange how the Jews always seem kill their messianic geniuses (referencing Jesus Christ and Spinoza). I see Norman Finkelstein as a heroic voice of reason who has been metaphorically crucified by his own people. Abe Foxman of the ADL claims to be protecting World Jewry from acts of antisemitism, yet he fuels the flames of gentile resentment against world Jewry. The way the ADL cries wolf about antisemitism only weakens support for Jewry if a real attack of antisemitism were to occur. On a lighter note, I like how Abe Foxman remarks (regarding Yoav Shamir) "He's not gonna hurt us" upon making his initial appearance in Defamation. After a person watches the documentary, it is highly doubtful that they would see the ADL in a noble "hate battling" light. Norman Finkelstein claims that groups like the ADL are full of pathological narcissism, referencing the indisputable fact that Jews are the richest and most successful ethnic group in the United States. Yoav Shamir remarks at the conclusion of Defamation that Jews should look towards the future and refrain from obsessing over antisemitism of the past. After all, if Jews are as successful as Norman Finkelstein claims, they might as well enjoy it. For my information on Defamation, visit First Run Features.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 4:22 AM
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