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Defamation: Do people hate Israel because it's full of Jews, or Jews because they're associated with Israel?

Updated on July 16, 2013

This was a very interesting and thought-provoking film, even though I'm not sure I agreed with it all. Yoav Shamir, the Israeli writer/director, decided to investigate the concept of Anti-Semitism in the modern world, a concept he read about constantly in Israeli newspapers but had never experienced himself. To do this, he followed two groups: first of all, an Israeli high school class on a trip to visit Holocaust sites in Poland, secondly, a tour by board members and major donators to the Anti-Defamation League around Europe to fight against anti-Semitism in the world at large.

First, a problem I had with this movie: early on, it represents itself as being about investigating Anti-Semitism, but that's not exactly correct. What it's actually about is using Anti-Semitism and the spectre of the Shoah to silence criticism of Israel and discussing Jews whose Jewish identity is based around fighting Anti-Semitism. While both of those are worthy topics of discussion, to indicate that those are the only two elements of Anti-Semitism that deserve to be discussed and analyzed is rather offensively simplistic. I'm not sure if it was Shamir's intent to basically say "Anti-Semitism today is only used to justify support for Israel," as he does briefly go into other issues related to Anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews based on supposed wealth, power, cheating of the system, being lazy, etc.), but really it seems like an afterthought, which actually makes the whole thing more maddening. The fact that he didn't interview any admitted Anti-Semites (who probably wouldn't have been that hard to find--I'm sure David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, and various Neo-Nazis would love to talk to whoever wants to talk to them) seems like a rather large oversight in a film supposedly about Anti-Semitism.

That said, the film's actual subject matter is fascinating. Shamir proposes that Jews feel a need to believe in a constant epidemic of hatred towards themselves to basically justify support for Israel's right-wing politicians. Relatively minor incidents are treated as violent hate crimes by the ADL, the Israeli high school students are forbidden from leaving their hotel in Poland for fear of phantom masses of Polish Neo-Nazis, and critics of Israel's policies (even if they explicitly state that they are not anti-Israel) are depicted as doing so because they hate Jews. All of this, Shamir and others note, hurts both Jews and Israel in the long run, as Orthodox Jews in Crown Heights eye suspiciously their black neighbors (while the black neighbors mutter about Jews cheating the welfare system and speculate on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" as to why Jews seem to feel superior) and one of the high school students admits that having the Holocaust shoved into her skull constantly makes it hard to feel sympathy for Palestinians (after all, what's a few Arab houses being knocked down compared to 6 million dead Jews?).

In one of the most telling scenes, three old Polish men inquire where the Israeli girls are from. Thanks to not understanding Polish, the Israeli girls quickly assume the old men are insulting them, even though they are saying nothing of the kind. Fear of Anti-Semitism makes it literally impossible to understand non-Jews.

All in all, this is a fascinating documentary, even though I'm not sure if I buy the argument that all Anti-Semitism is basically Jews turning minor incidents into huge issues in order to justify Israel. Definitely check this out if you are Jewish, interested in Israel, or just want to see a movie about how fear of prejudice can cause more prejudice in the long run.


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