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Intent on shaking up the ultimate 'sacred cow' for Jews, Israeli director Yoav Shamir embarks on a provocative - and at times irreverent - quest to answer the question, "What is anti-Semitism today?" Does it remain a dangerous and immediate threat? Or is it a scare tactic used by right-wing Zionists to discredit their critics? Speaking with an array of people from across the political spectrum (including the head of the Anti-Defamation League and its fiercest critic, author Norman Finkelstein) and traveling to places like Auschwitz (alongside Israeli school kids) and Brooklyn (to explore reports of violence against Jews), Shamir discovers the realities of anti-Semitism today. His findings are shocking, enlightening and - surprisingly - often wryly funny. Written by
'Hashmatsa' ('Defamation') by Israeli director Yoav Shamir dares to attack one of the sacred cows of Israel and of the Jewish people thinking - how it reacts to antisemitism around the world, how it looks at the evil of the Holocaust, and how young generations are being educated in Israel with respect to these painful and fundamental issues.
The result is mixed I must say. Without emulating completely the Moore style (he appears seldom on screen for example) Shamir uses the same approach - picks a number of characters and interviews them longly until they lower guard and reveal their weaknesses, which then are used as part of the demonstration of the thesis.
There are actually two slightly different themes in the film, although they are related and interleaved in the presentation. The first deals with the definition of antisemitism and the question whether real antisemitism exists in the world today at the scale claimed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and some of the Israeli and Jewish press. Here the director presents two leading characters, one on each side of the dispute - Abraham Foxman, one of the leaders of the ADL and Norman Finkelstein, Jewish thinker, author of a book that argues against the exaggerated usage of the Holocaust on political purposes by Israel and Jewish people. None of the two get a very clean image in the film, both have arguments that sound valid at some point, but show weaknesses and ideological bias in other moments. The weakest part of the argumentation is however the one that tries to argue that antisemitism does not exist, and the method used by the film is flawn, as the issue of antisemitism is not acute at all in the US where the director investigated most of the time, but has deep and specific aspects in many countries in Europe for example.
I did like more the approach being taken by the film relative to the education in Israel of the young generations about the Holocaust, about antisemitism and how to cope with these phenomena. Here the film does succeed to raise valid questions and the success of this part is due mainly to the fact that he lets the images and situations on screen speak more for themselves. The questions asked in the final sequence of the film - 'does this type of auto-victimization, of fear and lack of trust for anything that is foreign educate well the younger generations, or even give them the right approach to address real antisemitism and to cope with the horror of the Holocaust?' 'is this type of education better fit for the past or for the present and future?'- these are indeed valid questions which I would love to see being addressed in a public debate at prime time, not at late hours as the ones this documentary was broadcast by Israeli Channel 2 yesterday.
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