Exposing hatred’s hidden face

When film-maker Naftaly Gliksberg went on a world tour to research antisemitism, he was shocked to find it lurking in everyday thoughts and conversations.

By Nick Johnstone, March 19, 2009
Naftaly Gliksberg (left) conducts an interview in his film, Look Into My Eyes, which investigates antisemitism in Europe and the United States

Naftaly Gliksberg (left) conducts an interview in his film, Look Into My Eyes, which investigates antisemitism in Europe and the United States

Back in 2005, Israeli documentary maker Naftaly Gliksberg, an avid consumer of European news, noted another year of disturbing antisemitic outrages in France. In those 12 months alone, 504 antisemitic incidents were reported. Gliksberg, who had been following news reports of antisemitic attacks in France since 2003, when he was profoundly affected by the savage murder of Jewish Parisian DJ Sebastien Selam by an Arab neighbour, felt not enough was being done to protect French Jews.

“As an Israeli,” says the 50-year-old filmmaker from his home in Tel Aviv, “antisemitism looks like a very strange story because when you grow up in Israel, you feel so safe. I had never met antisemitism.”

He decided to make a film exploring possible causes of anti-Jewish hatred, starting in Paris with an investigation into Selam’s murder. While there, he heard of countless antisemitic incidents, including the sickening story of a 12-year-old girl who was attacked by two men as she came out of a Jewish school in 2004 — they carved a swastika on her face with a box cutter.

As the stories piled up, he started thinking the problem was European-wide and set off for Poland, from where his family were driven during the Holocaust. With a cameraman in tow, he began shooting a rambling documentary, Michael Moore/ Nick Broomfield style. “My film is about underlying antisemitism,” he says of the finished work, Look Into My Eyes, which was eventually shot in France, Poland, Germany and the US.

“My curiosity is for what is going on in the subconscious. For instance when I was on my way to Chicago and I just stopped the car on the roadside and found a regular American guy, a farmer, and asked him what do you know about my country? About Israel? And in the beginning, he was a huge fan of Israel and suddenly it came out, that he could understand the motivations of antisemitism. So my curiosity all the time we were filming was for the subconscious, not what we really see.”

Gliksberg was keen to keep the film’s enquiries centred on the shadowy antisemitism of ordinary people rather than zoom in on the predictable far-right politics. He did, however, end up interviewing a chilling US neo-Nazi group in Virginia. A spokesperson takes glee in showing Gliksberg a warehouse filled with items for sale such as jackboots with swastikas emblazoned into the sole. The neo-Nazi also talks about visiting Auschwitz.

“I asked this guy why he went there,” says Gliksberg. “He said: ‘Why do you climb mountains?’, and I said: ‘Because I enjoy climbing mountains,’ and he then he answered me, saying: ‘Well, I enjoy going to Auschwitz.’”

Did Gliksberg ever feel threatened in such toxic company? “I’m a person with no fear,” he says. “I’m an Israeli. I feel very safe all over the world.”

Many of his European Jewish subjects, sadly, do not feel the same. “In Paris, when I filmed in the Jewish areas, people stopped me in an aggressive way and said: ‘For whom are you shooting? Stop shooting here.’ There is a fear in the air.”

Look Into My Eyes is showing at the Human Rights Watch Festival in London on March 21-22.

Last updated: 2:14pm, March 19 2009