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“Defamation” doc defamed by Times

Another example of how Times movie reviews play politics

Deft doc too hot to handle objectively, it seems

In fact, Defamation offers crucial evidence of political distortions

Israeli kids take in Auschwitz as some adults wonder if Jews should leave their past behind in justifying Israel's actions todayAn interesting case of politics distorting film reviewing in the Times occurred today (Nov 20 Fri) with the release of Defamation, a fine documentary study of the issue of how surprisingly little anti Semitism there is in the West today, and how this specter of past horrors is overused as a stick by the Jewish Defense League to raise funds and to beat back criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

This is today’s review of Defamation in the Times, which seems likely to reduce its audience in Manhattan to the small number of people who research a documentary slammed by the Times on the reasonable supposition that it is likely to be worthwhile if the paper cannot handle it objectively:

The Past in the Present

by Neil Genzlinger

In his disorganized and somewhat annoying “Defamation,” Yoav Shamir, an Israeli filmmaker, tries to stir up a tempest with the notions that “anti-Semitic” has become an all-purpose label for anyone who dares criticize Israel and that some Jews’ preoccupation with the past — i.e., the Holocaust — is preventing progress in the here and now.

These ideas deserve a thorough, dispassionate discussion, but what they get here is an imitation-Michael Moore treatment, with Mr. Shamir trying to catch his subjects in unguarded moments. Not helping is that some of those subjects, at least for an American audience, are overexposed. Mr. Shamir’s main fixation is Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the most prominent voices on Jewish issues in the United States, and he also zeros in on Norman G. Finkelstein, whose positions on matters related to Israel are well known from his books, like “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.”

Presumably Mr. Shamir’s film plays differently in Israel. In the United States, it feels like just another day on the Op-Ed page.

Contrary to this markedly superficial estimation, from a copy editor at the Times who has written many reviews and two plays, the lively film has won a full bouquet of well deserved awards and assuredly doesn’t deserve dismissal in such an offhand and lazily contemptuous fashion (what does “somewhat annoying” mean, one wonders?) Here’s a more capable and straightforward review in the Hollywood Reporter, , and a fuller one by Philip Weiss at his site, Mondoweiss, which give a much better picture of what the movie is all about. Here is Weiss:

Yoav Shamir’s great film, ‘Defamation’, offers a devastating and transcendent portrait of Foxman

by Philip Weiss (April 29, 2009)

I saw a great movie last night, the documentary Defamation, by Yoav Shamir, an Israeli filmmaker. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and it is about the consecration of anti-Semitism as the central mode of Jewish identity and the raison-d’etre of Jewish nationalism–it sustains Israel. The group of Israeli kids traveling to Majdanek carries the Israeli flag into the ruined gas chambers, and they all wear sweatshirts with the star of David and the word Israel on the back. The point of the film, stated by one of the sour concentration-camp tour-guides near the end, is that this is a miserable basis for Jewish existence, a cult of death and fear and mistrust. The Israeli kids are so indoctrinated they think that the Poles are out to kill them now, and they don’t go out of their hotel room.

The film is great journalism for Shamir’s tenacity at insinuating himself into the emotional life of events, and for his portraits: of Abraham Foxman, Charles Jacobs, John Mearsheimer, Uri Avnery, and Norman Finkelstein.

The Foxman portrait is the core of the film and at once devastating and sympathetic. We see him manipulating the Holocaust in a number of situations. The scenes of ADL staff coming up with anti-Semitic incidents in the US to keep the ball rolling are strictly farcical. There is even farcical music, as they tell you of threats that aren’t threats. Foxman is shown pressing Ukrainian president Viktor Yuschenko in a conference room over Holocaust remembrance/guilt. Later, in Rome, enroute to meet the Pope, Foxman tells Shamir that there’s a “very thin line” between the perceptions of Jewish power by anti-Semites and the actual power that Jews have in the world. “Jews are not as powerful… as our enemies think we are.” But we’re not going to try and convince them otherwise, he says. Yes: the man is going to meet the Pope. Of course Jews have power, and Foxman has no awareness of this.

Are Israeli kids being sacrificed to the politics of right wing extremists in Israel and the US, so that in the future reconciliation of Israel with the other inhabitants of the Middle East will be harder than ever?The portrait becomes transcendent at Babi Yar. Foxman gathers the board of the ADL at the Ukrainian massacre site and all the old Jews are talking about how Israel must be maintained because it may be necessary for all Jews in the world to go there, and then Foxman says a Hebrew prayer and his voice trembles and he is in tears. The scene gave me tremendous sympathy for Foxman. He is locked in his childhood of suffering. It makes perfect sense that he has projected his childhood demons on to the world, but they are just demons. The same point is made with an old Israeli journalist who has blue numbers tattooed on his arm and writes about anti-Semitism night and day. Well he has a fine reason, Shamir is saying.
(Click this tab for the rest of the middle portion of this very complete review)

The real blows to Foxman come from a couple of rabbis. A Rabbi Hecht in Brooklyn says, “I’m nervous about his reports… Are they accurate? He has to create a problem because he needs a job.” A Rabbi Dov Bleich in Kiev, who is Orthodox, says that anti-Semitism is not a problem, and that if these people only had a religious practice they wouldn’t need the church of anti-Semitism.

Shamir follows Foxman devoting an entire three-day conference in Israel to discussing Walt and Mearsheimer’s book. Charles Jacobs, then of the David Project, is there and comes off as a crazy man. He says, we always thought that antisemites were skinheads saying Kike, little did we know they would turn out to be softspoken college professors. David Hirsch, a sociologist from England, gets up to say, bravely, that not one word has been said about the occupation and the humiliation of the Palestinians, and this is the true context for much of the criticism of Israel. There is dead silence, and then people attack him. When Shamir says to Jacobs that this is sensible, Jacobs goes off on him. He says you are like the beaten wife who goes to the police station and blames herself and never blames the husband. You have accepted the world’s evil view of you, this is the problem with the left. Islamists think you are evil and you have accepted it.

It is too bad more journalism was not done of Jacobs when he was leading the assault on Columbia professors. He is so wildeyed and removed from reality he demolishes his own case.

Really it is terrible that so little journalism has been done about any of these people. How much journalism have we seen of John Mearsheimer and Norman Finkelstein. There are two scenes of Finkelstein, the first at DePaul before he has been cracked in the jaws of the Israel lobby, the second when he is tan and on the Boardwalk in Brooklyn and in his humble apartment. Now Finkelstein is as possessed by the Holocaust as Foxman—and the film is unkind to Finkelstein at the end, as a way of seeking to preserve its surface balance, making him out to be mad after he compares Foxman to Hitler–but Finkelstein is eloquent and fierce when talking about the Israelis’ use of suffering to justify the affliction of the Palestinians. The suffering is a package deal; it is “suffering wrapped in a club.” The suffering is cited as Palestinians are humiliated, degraded and tortured.

Earlier in the film, an Israeli girl on the Holocaust tour makes Finkelstein’s point. She says that when she sees the Jewish suffering at Auschwitz she doesn’t think that the Arabs have really suffered at all. Avraham Burg has also made this point: that Israelis too quickly forgave the Germans, for the money, and put the hatred on to the Arabs.
Back to Finkelstein. Shamir compares Finkelstein to the biblical prophets. He looks like a prophet, with his long face and large forehead and level blue eyes. He says that the Holocaust is used to prevent any criticism of Israel. He opens the radio (a quaint old expression) and “I hear nonstop about Sudan, I hear nonstop about Tibet, I hear nonstop about Darfur. The only place I hear excuses made for is Israel.”

As for Mearsheimer, he comes off as puckish, which he can be, and wise. It is a very affectionate portrait, Mearsheimer in his booklined Chicago office merely raising an eyebrow when Shamir asks him if he doesn’t have anti-Semitism deep inside him. “I’m not anti-Semitic, and I never had any doubt that I’m not anti-Semitic… My arguments are not in any way hostile to the Jews or the state of Israel.” He isn’t going to talk about how many of his friends are Jewish because that–a puckish smile–will only hurt his point.

The news in the film involves Mearsheimer. I blogged about that earlier today, Teddy Katz’s statement that Mearsheimer and Walt are blessings to Israel. Finkelstein echoes the point about the lobby. Holocaust education is not intended to enlighten; it is being used by “war mongers from Martha’s Vineyard, and war mongers from the Hamptons, and war-mongers from Beverly Hills and… Miami.” It’s a disaster for Israel, he says. A curse.
Many people speak of the occupation in the film. It goes unseen. In the Q-and-A that followed the premiere last night at the Tribeca Film Festival, Yoav Shamir also spoke hintingly of it, that as Jews we started out being walled and now we have put a wall about us in Israel. A delicate reference to the wall. He never showed it, he did show Auschwitz. The Palestinians are off stage. He can’t show the occupation, can’t show the wall. He wants to open as a feature in the U.S. and to be on television. Good luck to him. And oh how wise not to show us the occupation. It is enough for now that Americans heard from Finkelstein and Mearsheimer.

(P.S. The film is working. A Jewish woman in the audience said, “We have the situation in Israel that has lasted all these years– and we need a shift.” Jewish identity is changing.)

This is the film that the Times now sees fit to dismiss in a few lines. So much for All The News That Is Fit To Print.

One point of correction, however. Shamir does not make a fool of Finkelstein for raising a Nazi salute to show what he thinks of Foxman. He tells him, in fact, that the gesture may be misunderstood by viewers. In that way, he ensured it would not be.

No criticism of Israel, please

Apparently a film that has significant awards
(AMNESTY AWARD at CPH : DOX; Kopenhagen;Feature Film Competition Festival dei Popoli, Firenze/Florence, ITALY – The Peoples’ Award for Best Documentary (EUR 10,000);Nominated to the ASIAN PACIFIC SCREEN AWARD – best Feature length documentary 2009;THE TIMES BFI, London Film Festival, Grierson Award for Best Documentary 2009;ZÜRICH FilmFestival 09; Special Jury Mention;Nominated to the European FilmAcademy´s BEST EUROPEAN DOKFILM – PRIX ARTE;New York Tribeca Filmfestival – Special Jury Mention/Award; (Robert de Niros Festival);Paju 09; Grand Award of the Documentary Filmfestival of PAJU Prizren 09; Special Jury Mention Madrid, Documenta 09 – Audience Award and 3.000 Euro;Tel Aviv DOCAVIV 09 – First Research Award;STANLEY KUBRICK AWARD, at Traverse City 09, for Bold and Innovative Filmmaking(Michael Moore´s Festival!) but is a hot political potato in Jewish and Israeli circles (since it argues that the Israeli lobby uses the specter of anti-Semitism to deflect criticism of Israel’s abuse of Palestinians at the cost of frightening Israeli kids into thinking the whole world is against them) is another truth seeking film that the Times editors and management do not wish to deal with in a professional manner.

In fact the director Yoav Shamir does a skillful job showing what is really going on in this propaganda war, and makes a very good case that Israelis should move beyond the past and its horrors and not allow them to be used to avoid taking responsibility for their own cruelties today. The segments where the Israeli schoolgirls are finally reduced to sobbing fright by what they see of the remains and hear of the stories of Auschwitz is very moving.

Shamir also shows very well how academics who have described the problem are themselves trashed on this spurious basis. even if they themselves are Jewish and their parents are Holocaust survivors. But it is the extreme fantasies of the right wing defenders of using this weapon which make the biggest impression, along with the shameless fear-arousal of the JDL leader Abraham Foxman in his own cause as much as the defense of Jews against what is mostly a ghost in the West.

In this charming scene, professor John Mearscheimer clambers on top of his desk to raise his window shade, before climbing down to defend his book on the Israel Lobby and explain that he is not an anti-Semite, and does not have to search his soul to see whether he can deny this charge which is almost impossible to defend againstAll of which reminds us of House of Numbers, since this is another example of how documentary filmmakers today can throw light on the most difficult topics in an indisputable way that their print counterparts never achieved.

Video can offer eye witness evidence of human beings in action, giving themselves away with their own testimony, without being able to hide later behind claims that the scene or their words were misreported or misframed, at least as long as their shooting segment is long enough.

Of course, as in the case of House of Numbers, all hope is not lost. The New York Times may rise to their defense by publishing a cursory dismissal.

A trailer for Defamation is on this page at Indiewire.

Here is the director’s synopsis of the film:

What is anti-Semitism today, two generations after the Holocaust? In his continuing exploration of modern Israeli life, director Yoav Shamir (Checkpoint, 5 Days, Flipping Out) travels the world in search of the most modern manifestations of the “oldest hatred”, and comes up with some startling answers.
In this irreverent quest, he follows American Jewish leaders to the capitals of Europe, as they warn government officials of the growing threat of anti-Semitism, and he tacks on to a class of Israeli high school students on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz.

On his way, Shamir meets controversial historian, Norman Finkelstein, who offers his unpopular views on the manner that anti-Semitism is being used by the Jewish community and especially Israel for political gain. He also joins scholars, Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, while they give a lecture in Israel following the release of their book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, about the un-proportional influence the Israel lobby in Washington enjoys. Yoav visits Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, the must stop for all world leaders on their visits to Israel. While in Jerusalem, he drops by the house of his grandmother that offers her insight on the issue and declares that she is the “real Jew”.

The film questions our perceptions and terminology when an event proclaimed by some as anti-Semitic is described by others as legitimate criticism of Israel’s government policies. The film walks along the boundary between anti-Zionism, rejecting the notion of a Jewish State, and anti-Semitism, rejecting Jews. Is the former being used to excuse the latter? And is there a difference between today’s anti-Semitism and plain old racism that is affecting all minorities?

Opinions often differ and tempers sometimes flare, but in Defamation we find that one thing is certain – only by understanding their response to anti-Semitism can we really appreciate how Jews today, and especially modern Israelis, respond to the world around them, in New York and in Moscow, in Gaza and Tel Aviv.

That’s a perfectly accurate account of a film we urge all to see if they can, and ignore the potshots of the too quick on the draw Genzlinger. Sadly, it is media incidents like this that undermine the standing and the future of the New York Times, soon to be one of the handful of newspapers that will survive in the US in print form.

Let’s hope that this kind of abdication of journalistic responsibility will be rooted out as surplus editors and writers are removed from the Times’ still rather bloated rolls by the hurricane which is flattening print advertising.

7 Responses to ““Defamation” doc defamed by Times”

  1. Baby Pong Says:

    Okay, the director asks:

    “And is there a difference between today’s anti-Semitism and plain old racism that is affecting all minorities?”

    And I will take a huge risk and answer — yes, indeed there is a difference. Racism that affects all other minorities is evidenced by the fact that other minorities tend to have greater than normal prevalence of poverty and menial jobs, unemployment, and other bad stuff. Jews, quite to the contrary, are richer than the average person and enjoy representation in high level jobs in government, finance, the news media, science, medicine, academia, Hollywood, TV and other important fields that is way out of proportion to their percentage in the population — i.e, much higher than their percentage in the population.

    If anyone insists I document this, well, I haven’t actually done so, it’s just an observation. I believe I have seen some documentation in the past… I could google it if you like. But look at the Federal Reserve chairmen and governors, for one example. Look at the past Federal reserve chairmen. You will definitely see a pattern that is NOT one of a discriminated-against minority group. Look at the top reporters, editors and columnists at the top newspapers and news organizations. Then remember that Jews are just 1.5% of the US population, 1.2% of the Canadian population and well under 1% of the European and Australian populations.

    I say this, being the black sheep son of a Jewish family myself. That qualifier enables me to get away with saying what a gentile would never be allowed to utter without severe condemnation.

    Jewry has made a great successful industry out of pretending to be a discriminated-against minority group. In reality, they are power brokers in the world far out of proportion to their numbers. Their pretence of being a persecuted minority needing special protection enables them to get away with outrages against freedom of speech such as coercing legislators in many countries to pass laws that put people in jail for expressing their opinions that there were no gas chambers.

    So…I haven’t seen the flim. But tend to agree with what it appears to be saying.

    And I’m certainly not suggesting that there aren’t lots of wonderful Jews, like Celia, Harvey, and many others. But I wish “the tribe” would quit the damn whining.

  2. MartinDKessler Says:

    Jews currently may make a bit more out of antisemitism but it is not without a lot of previous history. Jews became the bankers of Europe because historically, Christians were not allowed to lend money at a profit. Jews became known for being doctors and scientists because again, such expertise was also problematic for Christians. Yes I know Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo were not Jewish.

    The antisemitism in the Arab countries in particular and many of the Eastern Euopean countries where virtually no Jews can be found, is sad especially given the fact that Islam is a derivative of both Judaism and Christianity. Jews are not welcome in Saudi Arabia especially in Mecca where they are not even allowed. I’m sure King Abdullah would be delighted to deal with a Jewish American president – Gore probably did not get elected partly because Lieberman (a devout Jew)was his vice presidential choice. We’ve got one now with a partly Moslem heritage.

    Mein Kampf is a best seller in Turkey along with Protocols of the Elders of Zion – go figure.

    With Israel, we have a really very tiny country in comparison with its neighbors – apparently those neighbors wish Israel was never there – that beach front property must be very valuable. It’s a good thing for Israel that its neighbors hate each other almost as much as they hate Israel. Why do Sunnis seemingly have no problem killing Shiites and vice versa? You don’t hear of Hasidic Jews blowing up Reform Jewish synagogues.

    Just a few thoughts.

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    All we can say is that Jews are wonderful in various ways and they are disappointing in various ways like every other human tribe, but the wonderful things are things we particularly value even though we are not Jewish, unless our Russian great grandfather had the Askenazy gene, which we hope he did. One thing is that whether it is now inborn or simply the result of the emphasis on education but Jews in New York especially but perhaps all of them everywhere are guaranteed to provide good conversation 95 per cent of the time, with even their standard tropes tending toward comedy and self irony. This was shown in the recent film Four Seasons Lodge about the group of Holocaust survivors who holiday in the Catskills together every summer in a cabin complex with central hall and swimming pool etc, all of whom were ironically witty and good humored even when discussing the fact it was raining.

    For this we admire them, though no more in the end that the English, Scottish and Irish, all of whom seem to excel in the art of chatting in lively fashion to almost anybody, like many New Yorkers, and emphasize optimism and good humor as a social oil, just like so many Americans.

    We thoroughly approve of positive thinking for this reason even though the admirable Barbara Ehrenreich has now written Bright-Sided a book deploring how far too much of it there is in the States, and how she got fed up with “sappy pink ribbons” and being told to get some counseling when she said in a breast cancer support group that she wished she was allowed to express her dread of the effects of cancer and chemotherapy and outrage at people who said the disease was “your connection with the divine” and Lance Armstrong saying “cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me”.

    While slinging generalizations like Frisbees we would like to add that we firmly believe that the English have the most common sense of any nation, partly because we know that a nice cup of tea is the best thing to calm the nerves after a catastrophe.

    All in all we believe speech should be as free as possible in principle and it is a sad day when Israel defends itself from criticism by invoking the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, but PC is a weapon everyone tries to use these days, and no one more than the HIV brigade, and very successfully too. Imagine Duesberg getting a paper published for 3 months withdrawn from Medical Hypotheses and even at least temporarily from PubMed. This is an enormous scandal which must get a post to itself in the next few days, together with other developments in the ongoing progress of bringing enlightenment to the ungrateful oppressed in this sphere.

    Barbara Ehrenreich:

    Americans are a “positive” people. This is our reputation as well as our self-image. We smile a lot and are often baffled when people from other cultures do not return the favor. In the well-worn stereotype, we are upbeat, cheerful, optimistic, and shallow, while foreigners are likely to be subtle, world-weary, and possibly decadent. American expatriate writers like Henry James and James Baldwin wrestled with and occasionally reinforced this stereotype, which I once encountered in the 1980s in the form of a remark by Soviet émigré poet Joseph Brodsky to the effect that the problem with Americans is that they have “never known suffering.” (Apparently he didn’t know who had invented the blues.) Whether we Americans see it as an embarrassment or a point of pride, being positive—in affect, in mood, in outlook—seems to be engrained in our national character.

    Who would be churlish or disaffected enough to challenge these happy features of the American personality? Take the business of positive “affect,” which refers to the mood we display to others through our smiles, our greetings, our professions of confidence and optimism. Scientists have found that the mere act of smiling can generate positive feelings within us, at least if the smile is not forced. In addition, good feelings, as expressed through our words and smiles, seem to be contagious: “Smile and the world smiles with you.” Surely the world would be a better, happier place if we all greeted one another warmly and stopped to coax smiles from babies—if only through the well-known social psychological mechanism of “mood contagion.” Recent studies show that happy feelings flit easily through social networks, so that one person’s good fortune can brighten the day even for only distantly connected others.1

    Furthermore, psychologists today agree that positive feelings like gratitude, contentment, and self-confidence can actually lengthen our lives and improve our health. Some of these claims are exaggerated, as we shall see, though positive feelings hardly need to be justified, like exercise or vitamin supplements, as part of a healthy lifestyle. People who report having positive feelings are more likely to participate in a rich social life, and vice versa, and social connectedness turns out to be an important defense against depression, which is a known risk factor for many physical illnesses. At the risk of redundancy or even tautology, we can say that on many levels, individual and social, it is good to be “positive,” certainly better than being withdrawn, aggrieved, or chronically sad.

    So I take it as a sign of progress that, in just the last decade or so, economists have begun to show an interest in using happiness rather than just the gross national product as a measure of an economy’s success. Happiness is, of course, a slippery thing to measure or define. Philosophers have debated what it is for centuries, and even if we were to define it simply as a greater frequency of positive feelings than negative ones, when we ask people if they are happy we are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments. Maybe I was upset earlier in the day but then was cheered up by a bit of good news, so what am I really? In one well-known psychological experiment, subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire on life satisfaction—but only after they had performed the apparently irrelevant task of photocopying a sheet of paper for the experimenter. For a randomly chosen half of the subjects, a dime had been left for them to find on the copy machine. As two economists summarize the results, “Reported satisfaction with life was raised substantially by the discovery of the coin on the copy machine—clearly not an income effect…..

    A similar reckless optimism pervaded the American invasion of Iraq. Warnings about possible Iraqi resistance were swept aside by leaders who promised a “cakewalk” and envisioned cheering locals greeting our troops with flowers. Likewise, Hurricane Katrina was not exactly an unanticipated disaster. In 2002, the New Orleans Times- Picayune ran a Pulitzer Prize–winning series warning that the city’s levees could not protect it against the storm surge brought on by a category 4 or 5 hurricane. In 2001, Scientific American had issued a similar warning about the city’s vulnerability.8 Even when the hurricane struck and levees broke, no alarm bells went off in Washington, and when a New Orleans FEMA official sent a panicky e-mail to FEMA director Michael Brown, alerting him to the rising number of deaths and a shortage of food in the drowning city, he was told that Brown would need an hour to eat his dinner in a Baton Rouge restaurant.9 Criminal negligence or another “failure of imagination”? The truth is that Americans had been working hard for decades to school themselves in the techniques of positive thinking, and these included the reflexive capacity for dismissing disturbing news.

    The biggest “come-uppance,” to use Krugman’s term, has so far been the financial meltdown of 2007 and the ensuing economic crisis. By the late first decade of the twenty-first century, as we shall see in the chapters that follow, positive thinking had become ubiquitous and virtually unchallenged in American culture. It was promoted on some of the most widely watched talk shows, like Larry King Live and the Oprah Winfrey Show; it was the stuff of runaway best sellers like the 2006 book The Secret; it had been adopted as the theology of America’s most successful evangelical preachers; it found a place in medicine as a potential adjuvant to the treatment of almost any disease. It had even penetrated the academy in the form of the new discipline of “positive psychology,” offering courses teaching students to pump up their optimism and nurture their positive feelings. And its reach was growing global, first in the Anglophone countries and soon in the rising economies of China, South Korea, and India.

    See that first link for the rest. Doesn’t stop us from saying, Optimism Forever!

  4. Baby Pong Says:

    Let’s not forget — practically all of the great musical comedy writers were Jewish. But so are an unpleasant number of the Aids establishment members. And Arabs would not hate Israel if Israel had not appropriated their land and expelled their people, and treated the ones that remained like dogs and cockroaches.

    So, I think we can take a commonly believed assumption — that the Jewish race are more moral than the average person, and are “the conscience of humanity” — with a grain of kosher salt.

    Now, please, more Rodgers and Hart on the airwaves, okay?

  5. MartinDKessler Says:

    You know what’s funny, until Jerusalem was reunited (like East and West Germany), Jews were not even allowed to go to their most hallowed shrine – the Wailing Wall. I don’t feel sorry for any of the Palestinians who conistently teach their children that Israel doesn’t exist and that all the land is theirs. Let’s say they get it back – do you think there would be a single Jew on that land. The answer is obvious. The surrounding moslem countries that surrounded Israel had ample opportunity to absorb the Palestinians, but since those moslem countries hate each other as much as they hated the Jews, the Palestinians were just as hated. As well, the surrounding moslem countries intentionally allowed the wound to fester and instead of really helping the Palestinians improve their lot, they armed them instead and allowed groups like Hamas and Hisbollah to grow. I read an article in the magazine Foreign Policy “A World Without Israel” by Joesf Joffe (2005) where he presented 5 scenarios. One of the interesting things presented was that if Israel just went “poof” and disappeared, the last people on the face of the earth (other than the Jews) that would be allowed to occupy that beachfront property would be the Palestinians.

  6. Truthseeker Says:

    Interesting point, Martin, faults on both sides etc. Perhaps one can simply blame religion for keeping all these tribal conflicts alive, once the politicians start them. But here we were only talking about the exaggeration of anti-Semitism in the world by the ADL, which the film pretty effectively suggests. Of course, that an Israeli can make such a film is a tribute to the educational level on which Israelis and Jewry world wide operates, which always seems so high, compared for example to the aristocrats of England, who made hard work of any kind but especially intellectual seem totally unacceptable, because of its association with nouveau riche industrialists and their “trade”. WASPS in the US seemed to have borrowed this attitude until they discovered the joys of Wall Street thievery.

    After its slam by the Times, the audience vanished for this well executed enlightenment, even though “Defamation” is no more anti-Jewish than another documentary on Jews and the Holocaust, the fine “Hiding and Seeking”, which dealt with its director’s efforts to stop his sons’ alienation from other cultures such as the Poles by taking them to Poland to meet the farmers who had saved both their grandfathers at the risk of their own lives. But “Hiding and Seeking” was well received by the Times, compared with “Defamation,” whose New York Times reveiew effectively destroyed its audience here in Manhattan, it would appear. We hear that one discerning man went to see it this week in Manhattan and found he was the sole member of the audience.

    Of course they could have had ads trumpeting the other long and admiring reviews, but probably didn’t want to spend the money, or didn’t expect the Times rejection. Maybe they should have – the ADL released the following press release on May 8:

    ADL Statement on “Defamation,” a Documentary Film by Yoav Shamir

    Two years ago Yoav Shamir approached the Anti-Defamation League for assistance on a documentary he was making on the subject of anti-Semitism. We provided him wide access to film ADL in action, in our offices, at our annual national meeting, on leadership missions in Italy, Ukraine and Poland, and in Israel. Our expectation was that his documentary would present a serious portrait of what Jews worldwide face today — anti-Semitism in both its age-old and new forms, and the actions taken to counter it.

    After seeing “Defamation” we can only say the film fell far short of our expectation. Rather than document anti-Semites and their hatred of Jews and the Jewish State of Israel, the film belittles the issue and portrays the work of ADL and that of his own country as inconsequential. There was so much more Shamir could have and should have done.

    “Defamation” is neither enlightening, nor edifying, nor compelling. It distorts the prevalence and impact of anti-Semitism and cheapens the Holocaust. It is Shamir’s perverse, personal, political perspective and a missed opportunity to document a serious and important issue.

    But New York ignored all the other good reviews, including this one from NPR:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120452232 Exploring The Politics Of ‘Defamation’

    by Ella Taylor

    Showing the Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir around the New York offices of the Anti-Defamation League, the group’s jovial national director, Abraham Foxman, tells a colleague, “He’s a journalist, so he wants good stuff.”

    Shamir gets very good stuff for Defamation, a bracing inquiry into beliefs about the prevalence of world anti-Semitism today, but it’s doubtful that Foxman will think so. Depending on which parts of the film you respond to, Foxman has either dedicated his life to making the world safe for the Jewish people or reaped a handsome living by stoking fears that hatred of Jews — far from being extinguished by the defeat of the Nazis — is alive and kicking all over the globe, including in the United States, long regarded as a safe haven for Jews and a staunch defender of Israel.

    Shamir isn’t out to get Foxman, who’s a Holocaust survivor and one of the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbyists, but the filmmaker clearly takes a different view of what’s good for the Jews and for the soul of Israel. A member of Israel’s peace movement, Shamir garnered widespread acclaim for his verité film Checkpoint, which assessed the impact of border-control posts in the Israeli-occupied territories, both on the Israeli soldiers who manned them and on the Palestinians forced to pass through them. His superb 5 Days observed Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza with approval—- and with sympathy for the anguish of both the evicted settlers and the soldiers, whose orders were to remove resisters bodily from their homes.

    Asked by a Sundance Film Festival audience member how he felt about the pullout, Shamir answered wryly, “As a peacenik, I was glad things went smoothly. As a filmmaker, I was hoping for more trouble.”

    Shamir instinctively goes where the drama is, but he also has a gadfly’s sharp radar for the gap between rhetoric and reality. When he presses ADL staffers for evidence to back up their claims of a sharp spike in North American anti-Semitism in 2007, they can offer only wan transgressions — letters from employees denied time off for a Jewish holiday, or people offended by a cop’s incautious use of the word “Jew” — that hardly stack up compared with the Holocaust, which is repeatedly invoked by ADL officials as something that could happen again anytime, anywhere.

    In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, where tensions between blacks and Jews flared into a serious 1991 riot, Shamir finds Jewish residents on one side who are fearful for their safety, and blacks on the other who recommend a thorough read of the notorious anti-Jewish pamphlet The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But he also finds an Orthodox rabbi who notes that when a black person robs a Jew, the crime isn’t necessarily an anti-Semitic one. The rabbi ventures further that the hypervigilance of the ADL inflames already volatile relations between Jews and blacks.

    Indeed, Shamir finds far more sensitivity to anti-Semitism among secular Jews than among their religious counterparts, both in the United States and in Israel. Accompanying Israeli teenagers on a school trip to Polish concentration camps, Shamir watches as their teachers, guides and a zealous security detail whip up fears of rampant neo-Nazism among their charges. One student, hilariously, comes away from an encounter with elderly Polish locals (who speak not a word of English) with the firm conviction that they’ve called her a “monkey” and a “donkey.”

    If Shamir is gifted with an anthropologist’s openness to complication, he also has a contrarian’s impish appetite for the opposing argument, the more intemperately expressed the better. The leftist Israeli publisher Uri Avnery assures him that anti-Semitism in America is “a Jewish invention,” while Norman Finkelstein — a professor and son of Holocaust survivors who argues in his controversial book The Holocaust Industry that Israel and its supporters play the Shoah card to justify the oppression of the Palestinians — denounces Foxman as a “thug and a hoodlum.”

    That’s a lot further than the mild-mannered Shamir is willing to go. He airs without comment the view, expressed by Foxman’s companions on a trip to a concentration camp, that the Holocaust could happen again anytime. But he’s enough of a polemicist to question Foxman’s equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. And he’s shocked that American scholars Stephen M. Walt and John Mearsheimer have been labeled as anti-Semites for suggesting that the influence of pro-Israel lobbyists — the ADL prominent among them — is good for neither Israel nor the United States. (Walt and Mearsheimer have argued, among other things, that the Iraq war was “due in large part” to the influence of pro-Israel groups on the Bush administration.)

    No doubt Shamir will be accused of claiming that anti-Semitism is dead. He doesn’t, but the ambiguities in the title of Defamation suggest that, in an age of viral and often inaccurate media messaging, we have lost the capacity to distinguish between degrees of evil — between systematic racism and the minor slights that are the price we pay for living in democracies.

    Shamir means to liberate Israelis and Diaspora Jews from the defensive crouch they inherited from the Shoah, an admirable goal he undermines only slightly when he suggests that Jews and Israelis “normalize” themselves by looking more to the present and the future than the past. Neglecting the lessons of the past may be throwing out the baby with the bath water, but it’s hard to argue with Shamir’s gentlemanly hint that when talking about anti-Semitism, shades of gray apply.

    That excellent, balanced and appreciative review – who knew that NPR carries such good stuff on line? – shows how low the Times has sunk with its current staff cuts, or perhaps this isn’t new at all, who knows?

    Certainly it mirrors the experience of House of Numbers.

    Here’s a synopsis of “Hiding and Seeking”, which was an equally good film rated 100% by critics according to Rotten Tomatoes:

    Synopsis: In a testimony to the power of tolerance, filmmaker Menachem Daum, his wife, and their sons travel to a Polish town where his father-in-law and his two brothers hid from the Nazis with a non-Jewish family for 28 months. Daum proposes the journey when he becomes increasingly worried that his ultraorthodox sons, who live in Israel, have become affected by a culture of interfaith intolerance and distrust. At first, Daum’s family resists his idea, unwilling to explore the country of their family’s persecution. But eventually they agree to go along. His father-in-law fears for their safety, and also worries that the Muchas, the family who hid him, will demand compensation or express anger over his failure to keep in touch with them after the war. As they travel to the Mucha farm, the family visits sites important to their history–visiting relatives’ graves, and giving a blessing at a former synagogue–both emblems of a once-thriving Jewish community. Later, as Daum’s wife and sons tour the farm, their cynicism gives way to raw emotion. After so many years, the Muchas find the expression of gratitude they seem desperately to have desired, and the Daums tearfully piece together their history. Ultimately Daum’s journey begins to heal wounds between the two families and provides a solid foundation from which to increase interfaith tolerance, within his own family and the world.

    This is the Times review:

    Movie Review
    Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust (2003)
    February 6, 2004
    FILM IN REVIEW; ‘Hiding and Seeking’ — ‘Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust’
    Published: February 6, 2004

    Directed by Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky
    In English, Yiddish and Polish, with English subtitles
    Not rated, 97 minutes

    The filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky collaborated on the 1997 ”A Life Apart: Hasidism in America,” a sympathetic and informative documentary on Hasidim, members of the Jewish sect, many living and working in large modern cities while strictly following forms of worship developed in 18th-century Central Europe. ”A Life Apart” presented Hasidism as being built on apparent contradictions: at once cosmopolitan and isolationist, full of joy and oppressed by tradition.

    Now these directors have made ”Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust,” a documentary centered on Mr. Daum’s strained but loving relationship with his sons, Tzvi Dovid and Akiva, Talmudic scholars who left their native Brooklyn to study in Israel. Mr. Daum fears his children have turned their backs on the non-Jewish world, regarding all Gentiles with suspicion bordering on hate.

    Mr. Daum, who narrates the documentary and frequently lends his warm, bearish presence to the scenes he is filming, is an Orthodox Jew with a broad streak of what fundamentalists of many persuasions have become fond of denouncing as ”secular humanism.” He passionately believes that all men are brothers, and that all of humanity contains a touch of the divine. His sons, who look nearly identical with their black hats, scraggly beards and skeptical smiles, firmly contradict him, pointing to 1,900 years of religious persecution leading to the Holocaust.

    Mr. Daum resolves to take his sons and his wife, Rifka, to Poland, the country from which his parents, Holocaust survivors, fled. (Mr. Daum was born in a displaced-persons camp in Germany.) Hoping to find traces of his family history, he discovers much more. His search leads him to a Polish couple, now elderly, whose family hid his wife’s father and his two brothers in a hole beneath a hay barn for 28 months during the Nazi occupation, risking their own lives in the process.

    The sons are moved by such compelling, living evidence of goodness in non-Jews, but neither one is ready to abandon his beliefs. Through Mr. Daum’s efforts, the Polish couple receive the Righteous Among the Nations Award of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and the Daum family returns to observe the ceremony. But even while the sons express their gratitude, they cling to their separatist ideas. There may be a few good Poles, one of the young men observes, but given a chance to mount another Holocaust, ”they’d probably do it again.”

    The outgoing manner of the elder Mr. Daum makes it easy to share his pain and disappointment before such statements. Like so many people of goodwill these days, he is confounded by the revival of ancient ethnic conflicts when technology is making the planet a much smaller place with more porous boundaries. His film, which opens today in Manhattan, offers no answers and is all the more moving for it. An honest befuddlement may be the most apt and true response to the world as it is. DAVE KEHR

    The real puzzle of Hiding and Seeking is the fact that the two grandfathers rescued by the Poles at such lethal risk to themselves and their families never dropped so much as a postcard after they reached the States to thank their saviors. Apparently some gifts are just too large to thank for except in person.

  7. George Says:

    I saw the film. Surely I hate the actions the nazi have done as well as their very ideas. But what we have today. Through my recent visit to the Ukraine I looked for luxury Kiev apartments for rent and can you guess what I got?
    The same ideas the nazi offered over 50 years ago are alive there. And there are quite great number of the supporters of these ideas. This I suppose is the most awful thing within the whole concern. I have just a feeling that nothing of that people had killed years ago died. They are around us, and we can do is just to prevent their distribution. Please don’t be paasive and don’t let those ideas fiil in every point of the world around you.

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