Defamation (The FILM)

Yeah.

So, before being rudely interrupted by the “strategic, proactive and well connected talent management company that successfully creates and maximizes opportunities for its clients with major media partners” — aka Profile Talent Management — I was gonna write a review of a film Dr. Cam and I saw last week as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). The film is titled

DEFAMATION

and had its Australian premiere at the Festival. (See also : Still Looking for Eric, July 19, 2009.)

I didn’t take notes or nothin’, so am relying on memory.

    “The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.” ~ ADL Charter October 1913

In Defamation, director Yoav Shamir’s quest is to understand ‘the new antisemitism’, and in particular the role of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in combating its spread. The ADL is not. happy. Yoav. with their depiction in the film, which is largely unflattering: attention is drawn to the fact that, while the ADL has an enormous budget (US$70 million in 2008), the instances of anti-Semitism documented in the film as being of concern to it are relatively trivial — the most serious incident being when some stones were thrown at a skool bus containing (sleeping) Jewish children.

Eclipsing efforts to fight such actions — and the circumstances which give rise to them — the film concentrates, though certainly not exclusively, on examining the relationship between the ADL and the Israeli state, and the role the ADL plays as an apologist for Israeli government policy.

With the exception of a relatively small number of denialists/historical revisionists (see : Irving. Big bad Irving… Again., July 28, 2009; UnKKKle FredricKKK Töben fights on!, May 28, 2009; Father Peter Kennedy ~versus~ Bishop Richard Williamson, March 10, 2009) the historical background is well-known, even infamous: the Holocaust (Shoah). In this context, Shamir asks: “What is anti-Semitism today, two generations after the Holocaust?” A very good question, especially given the numerous controversies surrounding the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism (see : Anti-Fascism, Anti-German, Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism…, June 29, 2009).

As for the ADL, further indication of its current role is given by the fact that, as the ADL put it: “When the 9/11 terrorist tragedy struck our nation, ADL’s motto became: ‘9/11, the day hate became everyone’s problem'”. In the context of The War On Terror™ — which the ADL appears to generally support — and its conduct of a propaganda campaign in support of the Israeli state’s most recent military assault upon Gaza (see : Chomsky on Gaza, January 19, 2009), such questions become especially urgent.

When Israel fought back against Hamas rockets in December 2008, ADL immediately mounted a comprehensive campaign making Israel’s right to self-defense concrete and personal. The goal was to ensure, through a variety of classic and innovative ADL approaches, that a broad audience grasped the danger and terror experienced by increasing numbers of Israelis on a day-to-day basis. ADL experts continuously updated special Web pages providing extensive information and analysis about the conflict. We advocated. We communicated through ads and op-ed pieces. We monitored reaction and issued reports. We alerted and aided campus officials. We took polls, issued statements and wrote to world leaders. In so many ways, ADL’s voice — and message — was heard.

In general, the film provides some insight into the ADL’s role in contemporary politics — whether in terms of US domestic, Middle East or European — as well as the ways in which the Shoah, and the existence of the Jewish state of Israel, informs contemporary understandings of anti-Semitism. The extent to which the figure of The Muslim (Terrorist) has supplanted that of The (Avaricious) Jew as the hate figure of choice in the minds of various, predominantly Western, publics, is also noted (though briefly).

Shamir probes the ADL in a number of ways, including by way of accompanying ADL Chairman Abraham Foxman to Poland, and to Auschwitz — the Nazi death camp Foxman survived as a child. Shamir also follows a group of Israeli high skool students to the camp. (Their teenage antics on the way to and within Poland cause their minders — Israeli secret squirrels — some (frequently amusing) headaches.) The Israeli kids’ visit forms part of a more general effort to educate them about the war, and in particular the Nazi genocide. Notably, as part of their preparation, the students are informed that Jews are still hated in Poland, and that locals cannot be trusted not to attack them. Some of the students do, however, speak to some elderly Poles, and the old men’s query (‘Are you from China?’) is lost in translation, the students leaving the conversation thinking that they have been racially villified, and the elderly Poles none the wiser.

    Incidentally, this scene reminded me of a documentary I saw some years ago examining Jewish life in contemporary Poland. At one point, participants in a Jewish cultural event learn that there may be a neo-Nazi mob on its way intent on disrupting their activities: it is only when the mob turns the corner that it is revealed that they are in fact Polish antifa/classwarhooligans, come to offer support and, presumably, in the expectation that by doing so they might have an opportunity to confront the (neo-)Nazi scum. (See also : Poland: Solidarity for Tomek Wilkoszewski, July 26, 2006 | http://tomek.most.org.pl.)

The ADL itself is generally hostile to anarchism, anarchists, and anarchist participation in anti-racist and anti-fascist activism, especially in its more militant forms. (At one point, the ADL classified the circle ‘A’ as a hate symbol.) This reflects its statist, and otherwise politically conservative — which is to say, classically bourgeois — perspective. In essence, the ADL maintains that the police/state can and should protect the rights of Jews in the United States (and elsewhere), the Israeli state is the ultimate guarantor of Jewish survival, and the fight against anti-Semitism should properly be conducted within the legal and political constraints of bourgeois society.

This approach can, of course, be understood, not only by reference to the genocidal campaigns conducted by the Nazis (and those of other fascist regimes of the era — see : Ljenko “Little Goebbels” Urbancic) but by way of recognising the status of anti-Semitism as ‘the oldest of hatreds’.

Russia — to which Shamir travels to briefly interviews some Jews in St. Petersburg — was once awash with anti-Semitism, and hatred of Jews cynically employed by the Tsarist regime to sap popular anger and direct it in a harmless (to elites) direction. Notably, the country gave birth both to the Tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion — available for download from Australian Protectionist Party member Martin Fletcher’s website, along with a wealth of other anti-Semitic and otherwise racist materials — as well as the Anarchist Black Cross.

The rulers of [Russia] had in effect declared a civil war against their own subjects. In particular they used the Cossacks to murder the Jews. The Jewish population was a hostage to the revolution. If the Russian workers protested, the Czar diverted their revolutionary aims by organising a pogrom. It was at once an example to the Russian masses, and a warning as to what would happen to those who incurred official displeasure. When the “Black Hundreds” raided the Jewish districts, the police stood by. If ever the Jews resisted (and Anarchists and Bundists at times organised Self Defence Committees that fought back) the police stepped in and fought the defenders, arresting them for violent activity.

International Jewry organised its own committees for relief of the Russian Jews; but such bodies did not extend their help to the Anarchists and Bundists who had — dreadful to relate to the bourgeois sponsors of such committees — had the temerity to fight back. So a committee was formed in America, amongst Russian Jewish workers in particular, called the WORKERS RED CROSS (which changed its title after a few months to ANARCHIST RED CROSS, since the Red Cross Workers, asked them to do so to avoid confusion).

See also : UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

In addition to Foxman and other members of the ADL, Defamation also features interviews with Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007), and a rather cranky Norman G. Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2000) and Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005). In May 2008, Finkelstein was denied entry to Israel, and then banned from entering the country for another decade. A documentary film about Finkelstein, AMERICAN RADICAL: the trials of Norman Finkelstein, is due for release later in 2009.

On the whole, apart from a few technical flaws (especially the poor audio during a number of scenes involving hushed conversations), and the presentation of a somewhat incomplete picture of contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism in the US in particular (see, for example, James von Brunn), Defamation is very worthwhile viewing, especially given that no film could cover such a broad topic in a comprehensive fashion.

It even has a few laughs.

As for Australia, in a month or so (September 12), neo-Nazi skinheads will be gathering in Melbourne, as they have every year for the last 15, to celebrate their rank bigotry and to commemorate the death in 1993 of Ian Stuart Donaldson, the principal instigator of the contemporary neo-Nazi music industry. Other anti-Semites will be gathering at the Sydney Forum two weeks later (September 26/27), where the MC will be the German-born Holocaust denialist — and close comrade of the Adelaide-based denialist Fred Töben — Welf Herfurth (see : Terrie-Anne Verney : Take the Money And Run, August 11, 2009).

With regards the Melbourne gig, its occurrence has met with general indifference on the part of those who might otherwise be expected to organise to oppose and to sabotage its conduct — a product, in part, of the relative obscurity and generally marginal status of boneheads in Australia, but also, on the one hand, a symptom of the yuppification of punk and other yoof subcultures, and, on the other, the near-total absence of a broader, radical left-wing movement. My own role in helping to expose such activities has resulted in death threats, threats of beatings, the publication of my alleged work address on an Internet forum frequented by boneheads, and other tomfoolery. Nevertheless, those responsible will always be held to account — one way, or another.

Bonus!

Gianfranco Cresciani, “The Proletarian Migrants: Fascism and Italian Anarchists in Australia”. First published in The Australian Quarterly (March, 1979).

Anarchists took to visiting clubs, restaurants and boarding houses known to be frequented by Fascists, and provoked the latter to fight. The anarchists were armed with knives, truncheons and even pistols. Uncorroborated evidence indicates that during the 1928 Victorian timber strike they were considering the use of explosives, in support of the strikers. Yet, the most common form of violence during these years was the practice of assaulting members of Fascist organisations and of ripping from their coats the Fascist Party badge, that the anarchists publicly and contemptuously named the nit. Even Fascist Consuls were not exempt from this treatment. Count Gabrio di San Marzano, Italian Consul at Brisbane, while attending a reception given in his honour at Ingham had his badge stripped from his official dress and, adding insult to injury, the triumphant anarchists also encouraged the band to play the Internationale. This same Consul was repeatedly beaten and spat upon during his visits at Ingham, Babinda and Cairns, and was eventually and humiliatingly driven to accept police protection when he went to Innisfail.

This philosophy of direct action, incessantly preached and practised by Italian anarchists, starkly differentiated them from the other Italian political groups who, like the Communists, devoted themselves to organisation or who, like the more respectable Socialists of the Concentrazione Antifascista dell’Oceania, concentrated their effort on commemorations of past victories and defeats. Indeed, it was this recourse to action which made the anarchists so popular and attracted to them such a large following. As Carmagnola said in 1930, ‘we must remember our martyrs not only with speeches and flowers, but with guns, not like slaves, but like men. We must not celebrate, but avenge. A people that does not fight violence by means of violence, that bends its knees and cowardly tolerates the impositions of infamous mercenaries, is unworthy of such a name’…

The political decline of Anarchism in the ‘thirties was considered by many of its followers as a mere temporary setback in the long march towards the form of society that they dreamed of accomplishing. During those dark years of Fascist triumphs they believed stubbornly in the defiant words which end Malatesta’s pamphlet Anarchy [?] and which, in the final analysis, prove to be historically relevant when applied to the anti-Fascist activities of Italian anarchists in Australia:

Whatever happens, we shall have some influence on events, by our numbers, our energy, our intelligence and our steadfastness. Also, even if now we are conquered, our work will not have been in vain; … If today we fall without lowering our colours, our cause is certain of victory tomorrow.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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1 Response to Defamation (The FILM)

  1. @ndy says:

    Obviously, my film criticism has really struck a nerve.

    In the meantime:

    New Book on Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement
    uri | Uncategorized | Monday, August 17th, 2009

    My good friend James’ Horrox has finally released his masterful work A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement. Basing his research largely on newly-translated letters, diaries and essays by key figures and participants, James Horrox uncovers a deep and explicitly anarchist strain running through the movement’s early days. Not only does this illuminate a neglected aspect of Jewish history, it takes serious issue with Marxist and other historians, especially those who see the kibbutzim primarily as progenitors of the Israeli State. At the same time, it depicts anarchism as both an inspiring utopian ideology and a viable social practice.

    Foreword

    Fierce opposition to Zionism, and to the capitalist-military machine oppressing millions under its flag, is only emboldened by the encounter with the betrayed dreams of liberation and solidarity that lie shattered in its dustbin. For there is no question that things could have turned out very differently in this land, had the designs of the young Jewish men and women who landed on these shores during the first decades of the twentieth century come to fruition…

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