Friday, May 21, 2010


Saw the documentary Defamation, by Yoav Shamir, today. It's available for instant watching on Netflix. Here's David Hirsch's review at Engage Online:
The Bolsheviks used to aim to hit an enemy hard at its strongest point in the belief that a telling blow there would bring down the whole edifice. By contrast, Yoav Shamir, the Israeli director of the film Defamation, shown on More4 this week, chooses mainly easy targets. He presents some interesting material but he does so in a way that does not make the most of it.
My problem isn't the the filmmaker goes after easy targets, but he does so with a proud lack of context and an uninquiring mind. Hirsch also complains that the scene in which he appears was not accurately depicted. The filmmaker focused on some right-wing Jewish responses, ignoring most of the room. Hirsch, who found his way into the film by criticizing Israeli policy in the West Bank, goes on:
The truth is it doesn’t require much courage at all to stand up and oppose Israeli human rights abuses. People do it all the time. Israelis do it all the time. It is the illusion of the moment, pushed by films such as Defamation, pushed by the self-promotion of the anti-Zionists that there are fearsome prices to be paid for supporting Palestinian liberation. Personally, I find it much more frightening to stand up for a democratic and genuinely liberational kind of criticism against the current British orthodoxy of casting Israel, and the Jews who support it, as uniquely and especially threatening.
In many ways, Defamation seems to aim at a particularly sophisticated audience. One that will understand that when the director's voice says (about 11 min in), "The headline [on antisemitism] in the Israeli paper was quite worrying. I wanted to see how the Anti-Defamation League actually fights antisemitism" it's only the setup to a joke. The next shot uses a handheld camera, intentionally off-kilter, to suggest an unprofessional feeling and that the ADL isn't to be taken seriously. An audience that would understand why he contrasts his narrator's voice saying that he's never known real antisemitism, since he grew up in Israel, with his own grandmother saying, "Jews love money. Jews are crooks." In other words, an audience of Sander Gilman.

There are serious questions there, but Shamir has more fun playing around, poking fun at a particular Jewish self-image without ever looking at the context of the Jewish condition. However, it's well worth seeing just to get a look at how pathetic Norman Finkelstein is at the end. even though Shamir is predisposed to portray Finkelstein positively, as reminiscent of "the Biblical prophets of Doom, who were always being pelted with stones for saying things nobody wanted to hear," Finkelstein is himself a pretty soft target for abuse. Throwing Nazi salutes while complaining about being called a self-hating Jew is perfect material for Shamir. After being challenged on comparing Abe Foxman to Hitler, Finkelstein ups the ante, "It's an insult to Hitler." But he's also an important enough target and a public figure.

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