Defamation: Real and Imagined


Defamation, Jewish Israeli director Yoav Shamir’s cheerfully incendiary documentary about the modern face of anti-Semitism, begins with Shamir blundering, Michael Moore–style, through the New York offices of the Anti-Defamation League, where National Director Abe Foxman and his minions dutifully rout out a “spike” in anti-Semitic incidents, which includes office workers denied vacation for the High Holy Days and a policeman’s racial slur overheard at a funeral. From there, it’s off to Israel, where teens about to depart for a tour of the Polish concentration camps are briefed for their journey: “You will see that they do not like us.” (Later, some of these same students are seen putting imagined anti-Jewish slurs into the mouths of some elderly Polish citizens.) At first, it seems Shamir (Checkpoint) may be indoctrinating us, too. But as he continues his world tour, his case — and the film — becomes more carefully nuanced, with evidence of overt hate crimes (a stabbing spree in a Moscow synagogue) juxtaposed against Foxman’s Chicken Little hysteria, on the one hand, and The Holocaust Industry author Norman Finkelstein’s virulent anti-Zionism on the other. Does anti-Semitism exist, or is it a construct of America’s powerful, pro-Israel lobby? Are Jewish fears of a second Holocaust justified or merely a product of the same fearmongering that gives rise to all forms of extremism? Is Venezuela really the second most anti-Semitic country in the world after Iran? Like most good documentaries, Defamation poses more questions than it purports to answer, before arriving at the mildly reductive postulation that what’s past is past. (Music Hall; Town Center 5)

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