Monday, August 3, 2009

Defamation: in search of anti-semitism

Melbourne International Film Festival 2009

“It’s time to live in the present and look to the future,” is a seemingly trite assessment of the issues facing Israel today. Yet writer/director Yoav Shamir’s documentary Defamation (Hahmatsa) is a refreshing and original take on anti-Semitism. Not only is it a Jewish perspective but also Shamir is a Gen X Israeli. He is wicked in the very modern meaning of the word. His occasionally mocking tone contrasts with the extreme seriousness of his overall examination of this vexed topic.

His journey takes him to the United States in search of causes and instances of anti-Semitism. It leads him to heated debates about anti-Zionism:
  • Is it a mask for anti-Semitism?
  • Is supporting the cause of the Palestinians or criticism of the actions of the State of Israel a form of anti-Semitism?
  • Is the holocaust used as an excuse or rationalisation for Zionist excesses?
  • Are Israeli's interests being undermined by the U.S. Israel lobby?
His access to people and situations is remarkable. Who could refuse an Israeli Jew who is researching anti-Semitism? He goes inside the U.S. based Anti-Defamation League, including extensive interviews with its leader Abe Foxman and coverage of his trips overseas proselytising to some of the world’s political elite.

Shamir accompanies a group of Israeli students on a ‘March of the Living’ to Auschwitz. It’s an historical pilgrimage with a highly political agenda.

This passionate, personal piece of journalism is also remarkably balanced. We hear the ideas, concerns and opinions of a wide range of people:
  • Yoav’s 92 year-old zionist grandmother who thinks that overseas Jews are more interested in money than religion;
  • African Americans who believe that there is some truth to the long discredited Protocols of Zion;
  • well-off secular American Jews who believe that Israel is an “insurance policy” against future genocide;
  • the bitter and extremely frank Professor Norman Finkelstein who sees conspiracies by pro-Zionists as the problem;
  • academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt whose book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy argues that "the lobby's impact has been unintentionally harmful to Israel as well";
  • a teacher and students during their Polish excursion.
Yoav Shamr was accused of being anti-Semitic following his 2003 documentary Checkpoint that criticised Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. Defamation gives us a chance to judge for ourselves.

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