Yoav Shamir’s Defamation (2009) is a must-see movie. Shamir is an Israeli Jewish documentary film-maker. His other works include Checkpoint (2003), 5 Days (2005), and Flipping Out (2008).
Born in Tel Aviv in 1970, Shamir professes never to have experienced anti-Semitism, although he has heard about it all his life. He has decided, therefore, to go abroad in search of anti-Semitism, traveling to the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.
Although Shamir adopts the pose of a naïve observer, he seems to be advancing a thesis. He is apparently opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and to ongoing human rights violations. He believes that Jews use the holocaust and the specter of anti-Semitism to give themselves license to commit evil and to silence their critics.
Throughout Defamation, Shamir cuts back and forth between several different stories. This does not make the movie hard to follow, and in fact it makes it more engaging. But for the purposes of a review, I will separate them out.
Israeli Jews on Anti-Semitism
Before leaving Israel, Shamir told his 90-something grandmother, whose family came to Palestine in the 19th century, long before the state of Israel was founded, about his project. Her response is quite revealing. When told that Jews in the Diaspora complain constantly about anti-Semitism, she says: “Why don’t they come here?” Her answer is that Jews remain in the Diaspora because, “Jews are crooks. Jews love money.” They stay in the Diaspora because they are parasites who “want to live without working,” through usury, “selling liquor,” and other “monkey business.” She goes on to say that she is a “true Jew,” because she does not let money or anything else define her. It is a remarkable statement.
To Western ears, of course, her views sound shockingly “anti-Semitic.” But they were actually shared by Theodor Herzl and the other founders of Zionism, who frankly acknowledged that one reason for anti-Semitism was the parasitic economic profile of Diaspora Jewry: usury, selling liquor, catering to (and promoting) vice, etc. The purpose of Zionism was to create a homeland in which Jews could attain freedom and self-sufficiency without direct, day-to-day competition with non-Jews or temptations to assimilate. It would be interesting to know if her attitudes are merely a relic of an older generation or are widespread among younger Israeli Jews.
Perhaps I am reading too much into the grandmother’s claim that a “true Jew” does not let money or anything else define him, but I read this as a rejection of Gilad Atzmon’s claim that non-religious Jews define their identity purely in opposition to non-Jews rather than in terms of anything positive. The grandmother’s vision of positive Jewish self-assertion and self-definition was part of the original Zionist vision. Zionism is the Jewish version of racial nationalism: the national self-assertion and self-determination of a people, a nation, i.e., a community related by blood. But as Shamir goes on to demonstrate, this Zionist aspiration has largely failed, for Israelis today overwhelmingly define themselves in terms of enmity toward non-Jews.
When Shamir tells his driver about his project, the driver scoffs at the idea that anti-Semitism is something serious, because “Jews run the world.” I assume that the driver is an Israeli Jew and that he is thinking specifically of Diaspora Jews. If so, this indicates that at least some Israeli Jews have beliefs about Diaspora Jews that are labeled anti-Semitic when held by non-Jews.
When Shamir visits a major Israeli newspaper, he speaks to Noah Klinger, an elderly holocaust survivor (complete with numbers tattooed on his arm). This gentleman monitors anti-Semitism around the world. Which countries are anti-Semitic? All of them, it turns out. When Shamir prods him about objectivity, his response is basically “Why do I have to be objective? Were they [the Nazis] objective?” Two wrongs make a right, apparently.
When Shamir speaks to two young Jews at the paper who apparently receive Anti-Defamation League reports from the US and repackage them as news stories, the attitude of the male conveys a certain amount of cynicism about the whole procedure. He thinks he is part of a racket.
Shamir also speaks with Uri Avnery, a former MP and a peace activist, and shows a meeting sponsored by his organization Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc), in which John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, spoke about their work. Avnery is a very dignified and impressive individual. Another member of Gush Shalom, Teddy Katz, also makes a similar impression.
Although Avnery does overstate his case sometimes, which invites caricature, his considered opinion is that anti-Semitism is a real but negligible force in the world today. “You’d need a magnifying glass to find it.” He believes that the Anti-Defamation League and other Diaspora Jews promote fear of anti-Semitism and awareness of the holocaust in order to drum up support for the Israeli right wing so that they can continue occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands, human rights abuses against Palestinians, and aggression against Israel’s neighbors.
Avnery and his group believe that Israel will only achieve peaceful relations with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors if the power of Diaspora Jewry and the Israeli right wing is broken. This requires that the fear of anti-Semitism and the grip of the holocaust be weakened. Consciousness of anti-Semitism and the holocaust cultivates feelings of self-pity, anger, revenge. But enmity makes it impossible to pursue peace.
Shamir also takes us to a three day conference organized by the Israeli Foreign Ministry at which Jewish scholars from around the world convened to denounce and rebut Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Israel Lobby. At the end of the conference, David Hirsch, a portly sociology professor with a British accent, stood up to point out that not one of the speakers said a word about Israeli occupation, settlements, and human rights violations on Palestinian lands and how these might contribute to anti-Zionist sentiments around the world.
The other speakers replied with indignation and feigned incomprehension. When Shamir defended Hirsh’s position, an angry American Jew accused him of being like a battered wife who blames herself for her predicament because the alternative—that she lives with a monster—is too depressing to contemplate.
He does not complete his analogy, but the implication is clear: we goyim are monsters. Jews bear no blame for anti-Semitism because anti-Semitism is just a fact of nature, an expression of the baseless wickedness of gentiles. It is disturbing that this idea is widespread among America’s wealthiest and most powerful ethnic group. It would not seem likely that they have our best interests at heart.
With the Anti-Defamation League in America
Shamir’s visit to the Anti-Defamation League in New York is priceless. He is greeted by Abe Foxman, the ADL’s director. Foxman is a comical little character: short, fat, ugly, insecure, nattering, bumbling, shrill, and seemingly harmless. It is a masterful form of camouflage for an extremely shrewd, aggressive, and powerful enemy.
One of Foxman’s enormously fat underlings explains that, at the time, the ADL has 27 offices around America and an annual budget of more than $70 million, which he claims, in all earnestness, is not nearly enough. The ADL deals with 1,500 anti-Semitic incidents in America every year. The ADL seems to have a broad understanding of anti-Semitic incidents, for he explains that anti-Semitism starts with a few jokes and then can advance all the way to genocide. The ADL must, therefore, police jokes in order to prevent genocide.
Shamir asks for examples of recent anti-Semitic incidents that he can investigate. The results are disappointing. A secretary runs through a list of recent incidents: A Jew asked to take the Jewish holidays off work and was refused. Another Jew asked to take the Jewish holidays off and was refused. Still another Jew wanted the Jewish holidays off . . . A newspaper article has anti-Semitic undertones. That’s it. What kind of people report employers who refuse them special privileges to an organization with a $70 million dollar budget and international political clout?
Shamir visits Orthodox Jewish NY State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who reports with great pride how he righted an anti-Semitic outrage. One of his Jewish female constituents wrote him a letter informing him that a NY City policeman who was working at a Jewish funeral told someone on a cell-phone that he would have to “finish this Jewish shit.” She felt that this matter should be handled by the government, so she contacted Hikind. Hikind then somehow tracked down the policeman and forced him to call the woman to apologize.
Shamir concludes that there is no story here. But really, what kind of people inform government officials of such comments? And what kind of government officials cater to them? Perhaps the cop should be grateful that he did not live in the early days of Bolshevism, when Jews ruled and anti-Semitism was punishable by death. How many times have you been snitched on to the government or the ADL for your politically incorrect thoughts, your “insensitivity,” or just getting between a Jew and something he wants?
Shamir also visits Crown Heights in Brooklyn, where a Jewish elementary school bus had been pelted with stones by black children. One Jew claims that blacks attack Jews because they are “soft targets.” This leads to a conversation with four local blacks about their Jewish neighbors.
One denies that blacks are more likely to prey on Jews simply because the police and courts treat attacks on Jews more seriously than attacks on blacks. Another adds that the local Jews are masters of sponging off the welfare system. A third interjects that through their power in the media, Jews are part of the system’s mind-control apparatus. One of his friends adds that this was all set out in “The Elders of the Protocols of Zion” [sic]. He goes on to say: “They say it is a fraud, but everything it says is happening” (Evola’s view of The Protocols, by the way). Another black chimes in to say that this is not anti-Semitism. It is just the truth that happens to be unflattering to Jews.
Say what you want about black IQ, on this matter I challenge you to pick four whites at random on the street who are the equals of these blacks.
Shamir ends the scene with the observation that living in a racially diverse neighborhood creates a great deal of tension.
Shamir also includes an interview with rabbi Hecht, an orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who very sensibly claims that every time a Jewish woman’s purse is snatched, that is not an instance of anti-Semitism. He also argues that Foxman and the ADL tend to polarize Jew-gentile relations because they are in the business of ferreting out anti-Semitism.
With the ADL Abroad
Shamir joins Abe Foxman and a number of big ADL donors on a foreign junket to meet with the Pope as well as the leaders of Italy, France, and Germany. How is it that an American organization that operates a hotline for Jews disgruntled about being refused extra holidays also has the world’s leaders on speed dial?
Foxman explains that it is because of anti-Semitism. You see, these anti-Semitic world-leaders think that the Jews run America, so they pay court to Foxman in order to protect their interests. Naturally, this is one anti-Semitic myth that Foxman does not want to dispel.
Shamir follows Foxman to Ukraine where he deals with a trademark dispute. He explains to the Ukrainian government that it would be “counter-productive” for them to use the word “holocaust” to refer to Stalin’s mass starvation of their people in the 1930s. Jews have invested a great deal of capital—and reaped untold profits—establishing the holocaust as the ultimate “victim card,” a unique evil that entitles Jews to unique privileges until the sun burns out. Thus the ADL has resisted the attempts of Ukrainians, Armenians, and other peoples to gain recognition for their suffering. (Of course, the ADL might also think it prudent to preempt examination of the Jewish role in the Soviet and Armenian genocides.)
The best scene in Ukraine is at the Babi Yar memorial outside of Kiev, where we are told that vast and specific number of Jews were massacred by the Nazis during the Second World War. One old Jewish women tells the group that she can imagine the goyim doing it again today. The others agree, then a well-to-do Jew from Los Angeles looks at Shamir and the camera and says, in a kind of “have I gotta used car for you!” patter: “That’s why we have to support Israel. Israel is our insurance policy.”
This sets off a round of hosannas and amens for Israel: “Without Israel, there is not a safe Jew in the world!” “I’d roll bandages for the IDF.” Etc. When Shamir asks them if they are more loyal to Israel than America, they seem miffed but do not miss a beat. “Of course not!” We are told that they love America like a spouse, Israel like a child. They even say that they would lay down their lives for their children, but not their spouses. Being the spouse in this analogy, the more pertinent question for me is whether they would lay down their spouse’s life for their children. But they don’t go there.
While in Kiev, Shamir interviews rabbi Bleich, who suggests that the ADL’s focus on anti-Semitism responds to the need of secular Jews to construct a Jewish identity that is independent of religion. Some of the secular Jews in the ADL mission agree with this. This view accords with the claim of Gilad Atzmon that secular Jews who no longer affirm the positive content of the Jewish religion derive their Jewish identity from the negation of what is non-Jewish. Like Atzmon, they ignore the possibility of an affirmative secular Jewish identity based on nationality, i.e., ties of blood.
The Holocaust Tour
A very important part of Defamation follows a field trip of Israeli high school seniors to Poland, where they visit sites associated with the holocaust, culminating with Auschwitz. When Shamir was in high school, only a few hundred students a year made such journeys. Today, more than 30,000 go every year. The aim of these trips is to strengthen the Zionist identity of the students, most of whom are bound for military service once they graduate.
But the identity formation process is purely negative. The students are taught that the world hates them for no good reason, which gives them good reason to hate the world right back. One of them says that he wants to share in the “Never forget, never forgive” attitudes of his ancestors. Another says: “That’s what makes us special: that no one can stand us, but we are proud of it.” A young woman says: “We are raised in this spirit, that we know we are hated. . . . It evokes anger, pain, even hate.” Another young woman says, “I want to kill the people who did this [the Holocaust].” When Shamir points out that the Nazis are gone, she says, “Yes, but they have heirs.” And lest that be misunderstood, that includes all whites, not just Germans.
In preparation for the journey, a teacher tells the students that Poland is a very hostile country, filled with anti-Semites and skinheads. The students are accompanied by an agent of Israel’s dreaded secret police, the Mossad. They are not allowed to travel unsupervised. They are sent to their rooms after supper and told to stay in because of anti-Semites. One wonders if they are told to eat their peas so the anti-Semites can’t have them.
The indoctrination is very effective. When some old Polish men in Lublin say something that the Israeli students can’t understand, they conclude that they are being mocked. An anti-Semitic incident is confabulated on the spot. When Shamir tries to correct a young woman about the matter, she seems to ignore him. We are told that the soldiers at the airport look like Nazis and the man who stamped their passport looked like a member of the SS. One wonders if they know anything at all about German-Polish relations from 1939–1945.
In sum, these young Jews learn that they are a unique people. They are entirely innocent, yet they are persecuted incessantly. Since they are innocent, they can only conclude that their enemies are irrational, sadistic monsters. This, they reason, licenses them to live at the expense of other people. They kill any feelings of sympathy for non-Jews with a potent cocktail of rage and self-pity.
Since any criticism of Jewish behavior is seen as merely a mask for irrational hatred (or self-hatred), Jews feel justified in silencing all critics. And they have amassed the wealth and power necessary to do this. They have, in short, created a climate of corruption that would ruin the noblest of peoples and guarantee monstrous behavior.
It is an education in evil.
In his book People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Christian psychologist M. Scott Peck characterizes an evil person as follows. He or she:
- Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection
- Deceives others as a consequence of his or her own self-deception
- Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets (scapegoats) while being apparently normal with everyone else
- Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others
- Abuses political (emotional) power
- Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in order to do so
- Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness)
- Is unable to think from the viewpoint of his or her victim
- Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury (adapted from Wikipedia)
Shamir includes a remarkable statement from one of the Auschwitz guides: “We live with the feeling that death is always with us. . . . The Germans started it and we are perpetuating it. . . . We perpetuate death, thus we will never be a normal people.”
The Zionist dream, of course, was that Jews would become a “normal” people: a people with a homeland, self-sufficient rather than parasitic, defining itself in positive rather than negative terms, and therefore capable of living in peace with other people.
By fixating on the most negative features of their past and eschewing all responsibility for their misfortunes, a large and increasing percentage of Jews condemn themselves to a future of enmity and strife. And since Israel has a vast stockpile of nuclear, biological, and conventional weapons, this is a problem for the whole world.
Thus Shamir ends his film with the words: “The past is holding us back. Maybe it is time to live in the present and look to the future.”
* * *
Defamation is a remarkable film. I urge all my readers to buy it, as I have only scratched the surface in this review. As a teaser, I leave you with this YouTube excerpt of Shamir’s interview with Norman Finkelstein:
I wish to thank a reader and donor who shall remain anonymous for sending me a copy of Defamation for review.
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