by Yoav Shamir

January 25, 2010
from Guardian Website








I dispute David Hirsh's criticism of my film about antisemitism.


Far from 'easy targets', it is a difficult debate Israel must have.

In David Hirsh's critique of my film Defamation, he accused me of finding "easy targets" as subjects for my film. I can only assume that "targets" is common terminology for him; quite simply, all the subjects in my film (including him) are people who willingly chose to participate.

Let me start with the first person he chose to label "an easy target": my beloved 94-year-old grandmother.


My grandmother lost her husband, my biological grandfather, in the 1948 war of independence, in which he served as an officer with the forces defending Jerusalem; she was left with two young children, my mother and her brother (he is the Israeli ambassador in Germany).


She then married the man I knew as a grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor who became a freedom fighter in the Ezel - the underground movement that operated alongside the Haganah and Lechi.

My grandmother loved the film and was proud to take part.


Hirsh sees her as an "easy target", and although I personally completely disagree with what she stated on camera, her perspective represents the very early Zionists thinkers such as Nordau, who wrote Degeneration, and Herzel,

"the visionary of the [Jewish] state".

This small and marginal group (representing less than 3% of the entire Jewish population at the time) were young, secular, socialist Jews who wanted to create a "muscle" Jew; a Jew who would be different from all of what they resented in their parents' generation.


My grandmother is a genuine representative of this school of thought. She opens the film, not only because she is a great character who expresses what many people of her generation and, in fact, many Israelis feel toward diaspora Jews, but she is a reminder of the vicious cycle that Zionism became caught in - the state that was supposed to be a cure for what antisemitism started, as both Foxman and Finkelstein are actually saying, has ended up generating antisemitism.

The next "easy target" is the ADL.


I don't see how an organization operating on $70,000,000 a year can be considered an easy target.


Abe Foxman, whom I actually like and have a great sympathy for, is one of the most influential figures in the Jewish world of diplomacy, who meets with world leaders, heads of states and foreign ministers.


When I approached the ADL, I came with the intention of learning, and after spending many hours with Foxman and key members of the ADL, I believe that they are doing what they are doing because of their true concern for Israel, and a real wish to help the Jewish state. Unfortunately, even though I can understand their drive, I totally disagree with it.

A scene that I witnessed, at the end of their Auschwitz visit, is a sort of game in which each of the ADL members has to name five non-Jewish friends who would hide him if someone came knocking at their door - with reference to the Nazis passing from house to house looking for Jews.


As the game continued and none of them could think of five gentiles who would protect them, they then go down to three, then one… and sadly, they cannot think of a one righteous soul who would come to their aid.


The lesson is, as Foxman's book is appropriately titled, "never again".


I am happy to say that, at least in in my Tel Aviv social circle, this is not a very popular game; in fact, I was quite shocked to have witnessed it in Auschwitz. But it was a great insight into that mindset.

In their blind support of Israel, which is the supposed means for fulfilling this "never again" dictum, they are contributing to a place that is driving itself towards the edge of a cliff. Thanks to US support, the drive is a very smooth, air-conditioned and fast.


But, nevertheless, it is headed towards a cliff.

I can only encourage every Jew living in the western world, when next visiting Israel, to detour from the 433 Highway into the capital and accompany an Arab Israeli in his search for an apartment in one of the Jewish cities (such as Tel Aviv, Holon and Petach Tikva) and to take a short trip into Nablus or Ramallah.


If they have any sense of human dignity, it will change the way they look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But I am sure that most of the educated, liberal and mostly very pleasant people I met in my travels with the ADL are blinded by a false image of Israel.


An image that blinds them as they travel from Ben Gurion airport to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, to the many empty holiday apartments they keep in Jerusalem, which they occupy maybe one week a year; on the 443 Highway, which is prohibited for the Palestinians to travel, although it passes right through the middle of their land.


No "easy targets" here, but simply a group of very influential group of people who will go to great lengths defending and securing their "insurance policy" - Israel.

David Hirsh also referred to the interviews with the group of black residents whom I met in Crown Heights, where both blacks and Jews live, although in fairly segregated circumstances. In this scene, a local Jewish reporter claims that if a (black) robber wanted to rob someone, he would choose a Jewish person, because "a Jewish person would be an easier target".


The black residents replied that,

"actually, if they got caught robbing a Jewish guy, the judges would sentence them to more [prison] time because they would classify it as a hate crime".

They went on, expressing many stereotypes about Jews, ending up with a sad reference to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.


Is this antisemitism? Of course it is.


The question is, what would be the best way to deal with it? A wise local rabbi acknowledged the problem but blames the ADL for inflaming situations like these, because, as he says,

"Foxman needs a job."

Finally, we come to the group of "15-year-old Israeli students on their trip to Poland", as Hirsh says (in fact, the students were between 17 and 18 years old during the filming, and as you are reading these lines many of them have enlisted in the Israeli army).


When the film came out in Israel, I invited the whole class and their parents to the premiere at Doc Aviv documentary film festival. These intelligent young high school students responded very openly and honestly to the film. Adi, the young woman who is one of the main protagonists in the class, told me that it gave her a lot to think about and thanked me for making the film.


Their teacher, Assaf, responded in a similar way.

I don't blame these kids for acting the way they did. Most of them were flying out of Israel for the first time, and being brought up thinking that everybody hates them, find themselves in a cycle that is very hard to break.

I could go on further to address the rest of these "easy targets" Hirsh accuses me of taking advantage, such as Norman Finkelstein, a bestselling author and academic; Dina Porat, head of the center for research on antisemitism at Tel Aviv university; or Charles Jakob, who is very active online, but I think the point is clear: these are people who are passionate about their views and are very happy to share them with me.


I am a filmmaker who simply gave them the floor.

Hirsh wonders why is my narration in English? This is a version narrated for an English-speaking audience, and obviously my narration is in Hebrew for the version shown in Israel. In Germany, it will probably be dubbed into German; in France, into French, and so on. There is no hidden agenda about the intended audience, simply basic requirements set by different broadcasters.

Hirsh concludes his article by regretting that he was not invited to speak at this year's conference about how to combat antisemitism convened by the Israeli foreign office, which he attributes as probably caused by his appearance the film.


But I can inform him that, at this year's conference, Abe Foxman stated that the situation of antisemitism is the worst since the second world war, just as he had said last year and just as he will probably say next year, too.

At the conference I filmed, Hirsh regrets he came out as a hero - his interpretation, of course, as I never declared him one. But in that year, he was the only one speaker who said anything disputing the general consensus and for that, I thought he deserved credit.

It is true there are many Israelis who oppose the occupation and other violations of human rights; but unfortunately, there are not enough.


The current Israeli government is the most nationalist, rightwing government in the history of the state of Israel. Those few who oppose and fight against racism, and violations of human rights, risking their freedom - last week, the head of the Israeli human rights association was arrested for demonstrating against the taking over of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem - those I consider heroes.


In fact, my new film is about these unsung heroes.

Defamation is the personal quest of an Israeli Jew trying to understand certain aspects of his society and raising issues that I, living in Israel, don't think are discussed enough.

I am very happy to read all the comments and debates the film has started in the UK:

starting a discussion around this subject is something I was waiting for and the many responses here just prove that it is a discussion many are interested in.

As for David Hirsh, I warmly invite him, next time he is in Israel, to join me for a tour of the occupied territories.





February 9, 2010






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.



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