By Jonathan Hoffman
January 16, 2010
An Open Letter to Yoav Shamir, who made the film 'Defamation'
This is also published on CiFWatch.com
Dear Yoav Shamir
I read that your film ‘Defamation’ won the prize for Best Documentary at the London Film Festival. I have a suggestion for your prize: an air ticket Tel Aviv/Mumbai/Paris (you won't need a return to Tel Aviv). The brave freedom fighters who sought out and murdered Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg in Mumbai 13 months ago would love to meet you. They adore Jews - especially Israeli Jews. And the killers of Ilan Halimi in Paris would also like to meet you in person to award you a prize.
I also have a suggestion for your next film. Make a documentary about paedophilia, suggesting it's vastly exaggerated. That it’s a figment of the imagination of over-protective middle class mothers who need arguments to justify their decision to stay at home rather than go to work. You could start with an interview with Goncalo Amaral, the former detective who says three year old Madeleine McCann’s kidnap in May 2007 was ‘invented’ after she died in her hotel room. Then you could mock the UK’s CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks that all who work with young people now have to go through, even Boy Scout and Girl Guide leaders. And you could mock the person who told retired Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Stevenson that he was not allowed to take photos of his grandson playing football. And maybe you could persuade Sara Payne to let you film her as she campaigns for ‘Sarah’s Law’ to be enacted, on the pretext that you are making a serious film about paedophilia.
London’s soi-disantes will love it, Yoav! And the best thing is that no-one will be able to ‘prove’ you wrong. That’s the essence of conspiracy theories, isn’t it Yoav? You can always tell those who say you’re a conspiracy theorist that they are just part of the conspiracy!
I read that ‘Defamation’ is a film about antisemitism. I saw it. It isn’t - perhaps because you haven’t a clue what the word means – no, really means! - and make no attempt to find out. I don’t blame you for not knowing. No Israeli who has never lived anywhere else knows what the word really means. Living in a country where Jews are the majority, how could you? Oh yes, you know what it means in an academic sense but you have never, for example, been told by a non-Jew that the "Nazis should have finished the job" or ‘If you look through history, Jewish people are vindictive and probably evil and probably very unpleasant.’ The first thing you say in the film is “Being an Israel Jew I have never experienced antisemitism myself”. At least you’re sometimes honest!
So the first thing we see is your conversation with your grandmother. She wonders why Jews who experience antisemitism don’t make Aliya. After thinking about it, she realises. They are making money abroad, without having to work for it: “Jews have money, Jews are crooks.” I agree with David Hirsh: if that was my grandmother I wouldn’t show those scenes to the non-Jewish world, which is clearly your target audience. Does she know about her cameo role in the film Yoav? What do your parents think about it?
And then there are the scenes with Abe Foxman of the ADL in New York. I think he and your grandmother might join forces. He trusted you, didn’t he? He trusted you to make a serious documentary about antisemitism, didn’t he? After all you’re an Israeli. But you kicked him in the teeth didn’t you? You betrayed his trust, you mocked his ADL colleagues for not being able to find you a current antisemitic case to film (there are a stack of incidents on the Website you could have investigated but that would have involved some effort on your part wouldn’t it ….. ) Far better to waste your host’s time when you know full well that much antisemitism (like that on CIF for example) does not make great cinema. And you mocked the American Jews who accompanied Foxman on the ADL Mission to Kiev, though you were delighted to film the naïve ones who were willing to whisper to you that Foxman takes it all too seriously.
It’s hardly surprising that Foxman has denounced the film. He said that it "belittles the issue (of antisemitism) ... and cheapens the Holocaust. It is Shamir's perverse, personal, political perspective and a missed opportunity to document a serious and important issue." The ADL said it “belittles the issue and portrays the work of ADL and that of his own country as inconsequential. Defamation is neither enlightening, nor edifying, nor compelling. It distorts the prevalence and impact of anti-Semitism and cheapens the Holocaust.”
You may not know much about antisemitism Yoav but you know enough to give your film a supercilious agenda to mock and belittle those who do take it seriously. Else why would you have featured Norman Finkelstein – who believes that Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust in order to make money – and Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the so-called academics who penned a "particularly ripe example of the global Zionist conspiracy libel" (Melanie Phillips)? And Uri Avnery (“antisemitism is an Israeli invention”)?
Your protestation about Finkelstein (“I didn’t realise how controversial he was”) was a disingenuous piece of fiction wasn’t it, Yoav – given that you also featured Walt, Mearsheimer and Avneri…...
You even exploit children for your nasty sneery ignorant little conspiracy theory that antisemitism is much exaggerated by those who need it as an enemy in order to give them a Jewish identity. You film a group of 15-year old Israeli high school kids on a trip to Auschwitz. Like Foxman, they assume you are making a serious film and they unburden themselves to you (“We feel guilty for not having emotions”). You even film them sobbing after visiting Auschwitz. Such intrusion on private grief would be justifiable if the film was serious but in what amounts to nothing more than a crude pisstake, it’s completely unforgivable. I think they might have something to say to you too, Yoav – along with Foxman and your grandmother. Oh and you even sneer at their security guards for supposedly making them believe that Poles are all antisemites. But unfortunately it’s necessary for a busload of Israeli schoolchildren abroad to be protected. And if some of them as a result get exaggerated ideas about the Poles of today, so what? They’re only kids and many of them have never been away from home before.
No-one has summed up your disingenuous anti-documentary better than Mark Gardner of the CST:
To call this an examination of “what is antisemitism today” is itself a defamation: a defamation of the many Jews throughout the world who have fallen victim to physical antisemitic attack in recent years, and a defamation of those, including CST, who have sought to reverse the current near-global phenomenon of escalating antisemitism.
Yours in contempt
(NB This post was edited at 20:45 on 16 January)