On "Defamation" and antisemitism

15 Jan 2010 by CST

Israeli film maker Yoav Shamir's documentary, “Defamation”, was broadcast by Channel 4's More4 channel on Tuesday 12th January. The film, as trailed by both Channel 4 and top listings magazine, Radio Times, was certainly aptly titled.

Channel 4 listed the film as follows

The True Stories strand, which showcases the best international feature documentaries, continues with Yoav Shamir's controversial, personal exploration which asks, "What is anti-Semitism today?" Is it a real and continuous danger that requires eternal vigilance or a tactic used by right-wing Zionists to discredit and cow their critics?

The film was itself was many things. It was most certainly not, however, an analysis of "anti-Semitism today", as implied by Channel 4. It was a two hour long attack upon Israel and its supposed supporters, claiming that they defame non-Jews with the accusation of antisemitism. To call this an examination of "what is anti-Semitism today" is itself a defamation: a defamation of the many Jews throughout the world who have fallen victim to physical antisemitic attack in recent years, and a defamation of those, including CST, who have sought to reverse the current near-global phenomenon of escalating antisemitsm.

The film made no serious analysis of antisemitism, whether today, yesterday or whenever. Nothing of the scale and meaning of antisemitic race hate statistics against Jewish communities throughout the world: never mind more challenging questions such as the lessons of the Mumbai Chabad House tragedy; or what the highly precarious condition of Venezuela's embattled Jewish community tells us about where the trajectory of  extreme anti-Zionism inexorably leads.

Page 86 of the Radio Times*, as cited and analysed on the Normblog website, went several steps further than Channel 4, alleging that antisemitism is not simply “a tactic used by right-wing Zionists to discredit and cow their critics”, but

might be a conspiracy of the Jews and not against them. It will doubtless cause outrage in certain quarters but even so you may agree with his conclusion that "too much emphasis on the past is holding us back".

There has been much comment about Defamation on the electronic pages of the Guardian's Comment is Free and elsewhere. Those writing and commenting are doing so largely in the belief that it is "Zionists" who are being charged with abusing antisemitism. The Radio Times interpretation, however, says nothing about "Zionists". Instead, it uses the word "Jews".

The Radio Times is not an especially political or philosophical arena. We have no way of knowing if it, or Comment is Free, is closer to the public's attitude concerning Defamation: but it is most certainly relevant, and shows in its own small way exactly why CST, the Anti Defamation League and so many others continue to warn about the seemingly inevitable linkage between suspicion of Israel and Zionists, and suspicion of Jews. 

It is doubtful that Yoav Shamir reads the Radio Times. Given his film, it is doubtful that he would care.

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*(The Radio Times review does not appear to be on-line, in its entirety it reads: Yoav Shamir's examination of anti-Semitism in this provocative Michael Moore-style film whisks him from the Anti-Defamation League HQ in New York to Jerusalem and Auschwitz, where his experiences visiting the former concentration camp with a group of Israeli school kids leads him to the controversial idea that anti-Semitism might be a conspiracy of the Jews and not against them. It will doubtless cause outrage in certain quarters but even so you may agree with his conclusion that "too much emphasis on the past is holding us back".)


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