I first had the idea to make a film about anti-Semitism when my earlier work Checkpoint was released. In one of that film’s many reviews, I was called “the Israeli Mel Gibson,” not because of my good looks, but because the views I had expressed, critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, indicated that I was anti-Semitic. The author of that review was Jewish himself.
At first I thought it was amusing. Being called an anti-Semite by an American Jewish reporter seemed completely farfetched. How could someone who chooses to live outside of Israel, who did not do military service like me, who did not lose a grandfather in the war like me, have the nerve to call me an anti-Semite?
Until then I had never considered the central role that anti-Semitism plays in our lives. Upon reflection I realized that it is a constant buzz, always in the background, always annoying. After a while, you simply get used to it. How often are we really disturbed by the hum of an electric fixture or the drone of passing cars? Anti-Semitism may follow us like a shadow, but then again, who really notices his shadow on a daily basis?
Once I did start noticing it, I realized that anti-Semitism is actually a very popular topic in the Israeli discourse. Not a day goes by without at least one article in the newspaper mentioning “Nazis,” “the Holocaust,” or “anti-Semitism.” Having never experienced anti-Semitism myself — the closest I came was being compared to Mel Gibson — I decided to learn something about the subject.
This was the beginning of a long journey, culminating in this film. Anti-Semitism is an enormous word with many different connotations. Because of the events of the recent past, it also designates a very sensitive topic. Anti-Semitism is the ultimate “sacred cow” for Jews. While I did not set out to slaughter that cow, even the most sacred of cows needs to be shaken up every once in a while.
At times I found the subject daunting. No other phenomenon in Jewish history had so much written about it by academics that spent their whole lives studying it. Who the hell was I to think that I might have anything meaningful to add? I was walking on some very thin ice. Nevertheless, I decided to follow my instincts. Any question is relevant if I believe it is; I should never be afraid to ask or challenge even the most hallowed assumptions. The result is a personal journey that reflects things as I saw them. It is not intended as an academic essay.
I had embarked on a fascinating quest that meandered between the way young Israelis are raised in the cumbersome shadow of the Holocaust (making this film, in some ways, the last part of a trilogy made in the wrong order: Checkpoint, about Israeli soldiers; Flipping Out, about what happens to these soldiers after they leave the army; and Defamation, which examines Israeli youth before they begin their military service), the Anti-Defamation League, which is the largest organization in the world to combat anti-Semitism, and those who oppose the ADL, including Professor Norman Finkelstein, and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the authors of The Israel Lobby.
My journey took me around the world: from Israel to the US; from Moscow to Rome to Poland. Mostly, however, it was a journey into the human soul, into the way that people think, and in my particular case, how my people, the Jewish people, choose to deal with the past.
I hope that everyone watching this film will find it as thought-provoking as I found my quest, and will honestly question their own assumptions about the issues it raises.
Yoav Shamir, born in Tel Aviv in 1970, is a filmmaker. His works include Marta and Luis, Checkpoint, 5 Days, and Flipping Out. This statement, written in January 2009, is made available at the film Defamation‘s official Web site; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.