Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 20, 2009


Filed under: Jewish question,middle east — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

Opening today at Cinema Village in New York, “Defamation” is one of the most powerful anti-Zionist films ever seen in movie theaters in the United States, all the more remarkable for the fact that the director Yoav Shamir is an Israeli citizen and from a long-standing Zionist family that arrived in Palestine long before the creation of the state of Israel. The title is very possibly a reference to the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, whose chief executive Abe Foxman plays a prominent role in the film.

Like Diogenes with his lamp, Shamir—who assumes a comic persona a bit like Michael Moore or Ross McElwee while remaining off-camera—ventures forth from Israel with his crew in order to answer the question whether anti-Semitism exists. From the front page coverage of major Israeli dailies, as he shows us, you would get the impression that a Kristallnacht is about to break out at any moment. When he asks his 91 year old grandmother in her Israel home at the outset of the movie whether people hate the Jews, she replies to the effect that if so, they should move to Israel. Those who “have money” and who “don’t want to work” might turn that invitation down, she adds. When her grandson tells her that she sounds anti-Semitic, she shrugs her shoulders.

Foxman and his deputies, who we first meet at ADL headquarters, are conflicted over how to relate to the Israeli film-maker. On one hand, he has impeccable Zionist credentials; on the other, he keeps reminding them about the need to distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, a question that is addressed over and over again in this remarkable film.

Joining a tour group of Israeli teenagers visiting death camps in Poland, he shows us how necessary the Holocaust memory is to the expansionist and racist policies of the Zionist state. One girl tells him that after seeing the concentration camp, she “wants to kill them all”. When he reminds her that there are no Nazis today, she shifts gears and states that the death of six million Jews eclipses and implicitly legitimizes anything happening to Palestinians today.

The high points of the film involve Norman Finkelstein commenting on the Holocaust Industry and his blacklisting from the academy. Finkelstein, a singularly compelling speaker, has about the same amount of antipathy toward Foxman that he has toward Alan Dershowitz. When the director challenges him about the possibility of making hyperbolic that might alienate those who would agree with him on the substance of his criticisms, Finkelstein appears dismissive. Since the director had initially likened Finkelstein to an Old Testament prophet, it is surprising to see him dispensing advice about “reining it in”. In the most compelling scene in the entire movie, Finkelstein raises his hand in a “Heil Hitler” salute when Shamir mentions his name.

That salute prompts the director to remind Finkelstein once again about the need to avoid unnecessary rhetorical flourishes. At that point, Finkelstein explodes and delivers a speech that is worth the entire admission price. He reminds the director that being compared to Hitler is a standard operation in Israel. Different Zionist leaders were always comparing each other to Hitler. Ben Gurion called Jabotinsky a Hitler (obviously not a far-fetched comparison) while Ariel Sharon’s Labor Party opponents said the same thing—and vice versa.

Shamir visits Brooklyn in order to track down anti-Semitic incidents in Crown Heights. Dov Hikind, a local ultra-Zionist politician and former member of the fascist Jewish Defense League, tells him that one incident stood out. When orthodox Jews were at an outdoor rally, a cop assigned to protect them was overheard complaining on his cell phone about having to look after “the Jews”. Shamir next interviews Rabbi Shea Hecht, a leader of the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Hasidim, to see if he had thoughts about anti-Semitism in the neighborhood. The rabbi replies that none exists. It is only raised as an issue by those who have a vested interest in it professionally, like Abraham Foxman who he mentions specifically.

Shamir also directed Checkpoint, a powerful documentary that can be seen in its entirety on Youtube:

Yoav Shamir’s director’s statement from the film’s press notes can be read on MRZine. Don’t miss this outstanding movie.


  1. Lou! Look at you, Lou.

    Comment by Jeffrey Daniel Rubard — November 20, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  2. […] of Finkelstein’s on-screen charisma in a 2009 documentary titled “Defamation” (https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/defamation/) that included a scene with Norman at his building out in the Coney Island neighborhood in […]

    Pingback by American Radical: the trials of Norman Finkelstein « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 8, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

  3. […] first-rate documentary that I reviewed at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/defamation/ can now be seen online in its entirety. It is basically a profile on Norman Finkelstein and Abraham […]

    Pingback by Defamation is on Youtube « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — August 24, 2010 @ 7:32 pm

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