My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. . Proverbs 4:20
UK’s Channel 4 screened a “True Stories” Programme produced by Yoav Shamir, entitled “Defamation.” It was billed as a controversial, personal exploration that asks, "What is anti-Semitism today?" Is it a real and continuous danger that requires eternal vigilance or a tactic used by right-wing Zionists to discredit and cow their critics?
Among those he interviews are Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, who is adamant that anti-Semitism is rife and must be exposed; while Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry: The Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, claims that anti-Semitism is being used for political gain. It may be viewed online…
The programme was cleverly made with an unsophisticated appearance, using behind the camera comments and hand drawn captions on the screen images. This technique reinforced the producer’s assertion that this was his personal journey of discovery as someone coming from Israel who didn’t know what anti-Semitism was. This tends to suggest serious ignorance on his part unless he meant only that he had not experienced it personally. Having adopted the “personal journey of discovery” approach he appears to have opted out of researching and weighing opinions in favour of capturing and showing whatever is said; a very casual way of handling such an important issue!
The programme followed Abe Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, who came over as passionate but pushy, and Norman Finkelstein, who came over as most unpleasant and appears to have been turned against Zionism and Holocaust awareness by excessive exposure to it during childhood. Also prominently covered was a guy in black who upset an anti defamation conference with his speech saying that no-one cares about the Palestinians being abused. What the programme lacked was any attempt at evaluating the truth of the statements. As long as different opinions were aired, that appeared to be sufficient. For example, the (false) assumptions advanced by the Palestinian supporter about Israeli abuse were not evaluated in any way.
The programme also followed a group of Israeli teenagers on a tour in Poland and ended with the group visiting a concentration camp. Attention focused on the girls becoming very emotional about what they had learned. The final opinion voiced by Shamir, from behind the camera, was generally that you can overdo Anti-Semitism tours. Neither the context nor his comments made it clear if this visit was once in a lifetime or a regular trip; clearly important if one is to say it is overdone.
It may be possible to dwell too much on Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, although some people may have an unreasonably low threshold of impatience with hearing about Anti-Semitism. It is hard to see how making all youngsters, especially Israelis, aware at some time in their young lives can be anything other than essential if there is to be any chance of educating against a repeat. There is a case for avoiding over-emphasis on the Holocaust if people start to believe that it is the sole justification for Israel’s existence or what defines being a Jew.
Defamation did not really answer the question it was billed as addressing but by default appeared to undermine a position Channel 4 described as "right-wing" . Perhaps this reveals prejudice in funding and screening the programme. Nearly every British TV programme about Israel, even those not overtly critical, chips away a bit more at the reputation of Israel
Most disappointing was the failure to examine the truth of opinions expressed. By unquestioningly screening the opinions about “occupation”, “brutality” the programme gave yet another platform to untruths (however sincerely believed) from Israel’s enemies. To my mind, Yoav Shamir may not be a “self loathing Jew” as some have described Norman Finklestein but he is another self damaging Israeli. Open mindedness is admirable, but gains no credit in a world devoted to deligitimizing and then destroying the state of Israel. Viewers might think, "If Israelis will not defend Israel, it must all be true", and Israel gets pushed further into the corner where it has no friends.
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