A few weeks ago, I received a screener copy of Defamation, a documentary about anti-Semitism that was planned for theatrical release in the U.S. in the fall. The film, by Israeli director Yoav Shamir, looked at Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League in the states, and at educational trips for Israeli high-school students to the death camp at Auschwitz in Poland.
Using the confrontational techniques associated with Michael Moore (Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, etc.), Shamir leads the viewer to conclude that while there may be occasional expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment at the street level, anti-Semitism is no longer a serious threat to Jewish well-being in the U.S. or Poland. It seems that Shamir also wants viewers to believe that the educational system in Israel and the ADL in America has a vested interest in maintaining a kind of anti-Semitism industry. These organizations need to work hard to keep the specter of anti-Semitism alive in order to justify their existence.
Yesterday's fatal shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum seriously undermines the basic thrust of the film.
It doesn't prove that virulent and potentially violent anti-Semitism is pervasive in American society. But it does show that there are still people among us who are willing not merely to harbor prejudices in their hearts or promote crackpot theories of history, but also to take a gun and shoot a stranger simply because they symbolize a perceived cultural threat.
I cannot address Defamation's claim that ADL national director Abe Foxman exaggerates the extent of the threat in order to maintain his place as schmoozer-in-chief with Israeli dignitaries and wealth Jewish patrons. Foxman can slug that out with Yoav Shamir.
But I can say with confidence that the American ideal (based on biblical ideals) is to welcome the stranger into our midst - especially the stranger who is fleeing violence and persecution. My mother's mother was one such, fleeing the threat of Czarist Russian violence against Jews in her native Lithuania. In 1905, she and her parents were welcomed into the United States and given safe haven from the threat of pogroms. (It was not the Russians, but the Nazis who in 1941 eventually wiped out my grandmother's village.)
We should not let our American free-speech ideals lead us to shrug off the kind of anti-Semitic propaganda that was propounded by yesterday's shooter in his self-published book and on his website. We should clearly denounce such incitements for the poison they are and never leave the impression that "It's a free country" means we can ignore racism.
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