Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Truth lies in the Middle??

I just watched a movie that made me feel very uncomfortable.

Its called Defamation and you can find information about it here: It is available in various forms on the internet (for free). I watched it on Netflix.

Although it is fairly recent, I would think that more people would have heard about it. I think I know why there is a strong avoidance impulse connected to it. It takes aim at some staple Jewish communal motifs connected to anti-semitism and at a prominent Jewish organization and its leader, the ADF (Anti-defamation League). But this is no simple-minded propaganda piece. It touches some sensitive nerves. It made me want to look away. Although it seems to have been carefully edited to support the author-film-maker's point of view, I found it hard to dismiss - and some of it was downright embarrassing. Maybe you will have a different reaction and a more critical appraisal. Let me know.

The film-maker's name is Yoav Shamir and he is a young Israeli who traveled to the U.S. and Eastern Europe (with a group of teenage Israeli, on a Holocaust memorial trip) to shoot this movie.

I don't want to say too much. Maybe you will want to watch it and you should make up your own minds. I will just say this:

I have emphasized that just because a particular statement or position critical of Israel may not be anti-Semitic it does not mean that it isn't - and I do think that Melshheimer and Walt, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chosky and company - if not antisemitic are, at least, unconscionably opportunistic and biased in their approach (and at least two on the list are also seriously troubled).

But having said this, and having watched this movie, it also seems to me to be true that the notion of antisemitism can be and has been abused. This is very upsetting. (It is reminiscent of the refusal by many black Americans to give up the mantle of victimhood.) It is productive of its own insidious form of racism - against non-Jews (you see this in the movie).

The most disturbing idea is the exploitation of the Holocaust in this context. There is, unfortunately, an element of truth in Finkelstein's notion of a "Holocaust industry". This exploitation cheapens and desecrates the suffering of the victims and the enormity of the crimes against them. When it comes to the Holocaust, the events speak for themselves and the hype is distracting, sacrilegious noise.

I am in favor of the Holocaust memorial trips for teenagers and others (the "march of the living"). We need to remember and the world needs to know. But we need to be really careful to guard against the temptation to manipulate emotions into conformity with the communal slogans putting the Holocaust behind every anti-Jewish slur.

Finally, it seems clear to me that many Jews need (economically or emotionally) antisemitism to continue to be a perceived threat. Many are thus inclined to see antisemitism in every criticism of Israel or of individual Jews. Trivial events, and crazy outliers, are highlighted out of proportion and ultimately this leads to a loss of credibility and respect. This is particularly true in the context of the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Double standards invoked against Israel can be tackled on their own merits (or lack thereof) - one does not need the Holocaust for this.

Does it need to be said that we need to keep a strong and critical sense of reality in our pursuit of the truth no matter what our personal affiliations?

No comments: