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Silverdocs Documentary FF

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival taking place June 21-27, 2010 at the AFI Silver Theater




by Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor

With the Washington DC area still reeling from last week's shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in the heart of the nation's capital, a hot-button documentary explores the nature of anti-semitism in both the United States and overseas. Israeli director Yoav Shamir, whose incendiary films on the Israeli/Palestine conflict won major awards at Sundance, Berlin and other festivals, brings a somewhat light-heartened tone to DEFAMATION, which features some difficult subject matter and controversial points of view.

"As an Israeli, I have never really experienced anti-semitism in my own country, so I was curious how other Jews felt about the subject", Shamir explained at a post-screening roundtable moderated by National Public Radio host Neal Conan. "We are always reading about anti-semitic threats in the Israeli press, but I wanted to find out for myself what was behind it."

He uses a one-on-one style that takes him to the streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a unique community where Hasidic Jews live side by side with their black neighbors. While the blacks interviewed denied that they harbored any anti-semitic feelings, it was clear that they felt that their Jewish neighbors received preferential treatment both with the police and social service agencies. The Hasidic Jews, on the other hand, talked about their community as a virtual battlefield where they advise people not to walk alone and to aware of potential hostile acts.

Shamir spends a good amount of screen time schmoozing with the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-semitism watchdog in Manhattan, and its charismatic leader Abraham Foxman. The ADL monitors anti-semitic activities both in the United States and overseas and we see Foxman travelling to meet with dignitaries in the Ukraine, Poland and Israel....the virtual embodiment of Jewish influence in American life.

One of the most controversial interviews is with Norman Finkelstein, a University of Chicago professor who has been shunned by traditional Jewish organizations for his controversial statements. The son of Holocaust survivorrs, Finkelstein states that he finds it shameful how the Jewish power elite have used the tragedy of the Holocaust to wield influence in international circles and to mask the Israeli abuse of human rights with its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territorities.

It is in this context that Shamir brings up his most provocative viewpoint: how to seperate anti-semitism (a irrational hatred of the Jewish race) and anti-zionism, a protest against Israeli policies in the Middle East. These two are often muddled by those Jews who think of Israel as a kind of "insurance policy" if a neo-Nazi resurgence ever occurs.

The fact that this sensitivity is indoctrinated into young Jews is the focus of another important set piece in the film. Shamir follows the emotional journey of a group of Israeli teenagers who visit the Polish concentration camps of Auschwitz and Majdanek. The assumption is made that Poles are inherently anti-semitic and there is no question that for these young people, an important message has been indoctrinated that could influence their behavior in the future......a kind of bunker mentality that assumes that the world is hostile and therefore reinforces the need for a comfort zone.

The film, although co-produced by Austria and Denmark, does not delve into the well-publicized incidents of anti-semitism in Europe, choosing to focus mostly on the United States, where the largest Jewish community resides outside of the Israeli state. It is in this America, in a report all but buried in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, where Americans in a poll felt that Jews were mainly or partly responsible for the current financial collapse. This potential animosity, perhaps stoked by the high level positions of Jewish advisors close to President Obama, may be the catalyst for more incidents in America......a hatred fueled not by the Holocaust or Israeli policy in the Middle East, but by the trope of Jews being in control of the financial system. While Shamir finds any threat to be unlikely, this writer is not quite as convinced.

For more information on the film, visit:


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About Silverdocs Documentary FF

Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, taking place at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland from June 21 to 27, 2010.

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