Yoav Shamir on the Xenophobic Indoctrination of the Israelis

This is a short segment, fifteen minutes or so, from the full length film, Defamation, by the Israeli film-maker Yoav Shamir. Shamir’s argument in the film is that Israeli society and Jewish organisations abroad, like the Anti-Defamation League, deliberately obsess about anti-Semitism as a way of indoctrinating their people with xenophobic fears about everyone else. This is done in order to whip up support for the brutalisation and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians.

Shamir starts off by saying that he’s an Israeli, and has never encountered anti-Semitism. So he wants to investigate it. He talks to his grandmother about it, a woman who fled Russia. Her comments about anti-Semitism shock her grandson, as her remarks about those Jews, who remain in the native countries are exactly the same as the slurs anti-Semites make about the Jewish people in general. She states that she is the genuine Jew, the hardworking, decent Jew, while those who remain outside Israel are all crooks, exploiting the non-Jewish inhabitants through alcohol, gambling and so on.

He then goes to one of Israel’s leading newspapers, which has published many stories about anti-Semitism. He meets one of its leading journalists, an elderly man in his 80s and a veteran of Auschwitz, who still has the tattoos the Nazis placed on the arms of their Jewish victims. This man blandly tells him that anti-Semitism is rising in the world, and that Germany, France, Britain and America are all anti-Semitic. Britain, he declares, is anti-Semitic, as London has an anti-Semitic mayor. He also states that the newspaper is keen to play up anti-Semitic incidents, and downplay any decline in them. When Shamir asks why that is, he gets the bland answer that if there’s a rise in anti-Semitism, they sell more papers.

He then travels to America, where he meets Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League at their headquarters. Foxman and his colleagues inform him that there has been a rise in anti-Semitism, and they’re pursuing several incidents at the moment. Later on, Shamir asks Foxman if there are any cases his team can follow as they’re investigated by Foxman and his people. Foxman agrees. When Shamir asks his staff what cases they’re pursuing at the moment, he’s told that they’re quite serious cases. However, most of them seem to be about people not being given time off work for the Jewish holidays, and an incident where someone overheard a cop making derogatory comments about the Jews on his walkie-talkie.

He then talks to Jewish high school students at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel. The students are shown looking at a model of the gas ovens at Auschwitz, and being taught about the horrific system under which the corpses of the victims had their gold teeth extracted, before being cremated. He then films a school teacher giving her class a prep talk for their forthcoming visit to Auschwitz. She touches on how this will prepare some of them for their military service. She also states quite explicitly that everyone hates the Jews. The Polish people, she says, hate the Jews. But they are not to worry, as they won’t meet them, and there will be two secret service agents with them.

When asked about their reactions to this xenophobic teaching, the kids state that it makes them feel special, to know that everyone in the world hates them.

This is a disturbing movie, and the repeated assertions that all non-Jews are anti-Semitic, blandly made as if they were a simple statement of fact, are nothing short of outrageous. If the shoe was on the other foot, and a non-Jewish politician stated that all Jews, or all Israelis, despised the gentiles, it would almost certainly be met with anger and condemnation from spokespeople for the Jewish community. And rightly so, as such claims are at the heart of the stupid and vicious conspiracy theories that claim that Jews exploit gentiles, or are engaged on a centuries-long project of global conquest, as outlined in the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But these statements are not challenged, despite the fact that they are for a very large part, manifestly untrue.

I’m not bothered about the comments from Shamir’s grandmother. She’s of a different generation, one that arose long before our modern sensibilities about race. She’s like the embarrassing older relatives many of us have, who go on about Blacks or Asians. Their attitudes are unpleasant, and dangerous in so far as the people who hold them tend to be the people voting for Nigel Farage and UKIP here in Britain. But it’s not at the same level as the official xenophobia and racism being spewed out by the newspapers and the Israeli school system.

I’m not complacent about anti-Semitism in the West. Racism is on the rise throughout Europe, partly as a reaction to the poverty inflicted on the mass of ordinary people across the continent through neoliberal economic policies, and a political class that seems intent only on its corporate enrichment. It’s also fed too from fears of Muslim terrorism and violence following 9/11, and the refugee crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people flee north Africa and the Middle East for what they hope will be better lives in Europe. Racism was a powerful factor in getting Trump to the White House, where he’s appointed Steven Bannon, an anti-Semite, as his ‘head of strategy’. It’s a powerful force in elevating Marine Le Pen’s Front National to a position as a major political force in France, and the Alternative fuer Deutschland in Germany. And there is a very nasty tradition of anti-Semitism in eastern Europe, which is getting stronger, with attacks on Gypsies and now Muslim immigrants.

But to claim that all non-Jews are anti-Semites is, quite simply, a ridiculous, outrageous lie. Let’s take some of the countries the various Israeli speakers in the movie claimed were anti-Semitic, beginning with Germany.

Yes, Germany was murderously anti-Semitic during the Third Reich. But apparently today the situation is the exact reverse. There are still Nazi thugs and hooligans, like the National Democrats and Schonhuber’s German Republican Party. But, probably in reaction to their anti-Semitic past, according to the BBC modern Germany is very pro-Jewish. So much so that Radio 4 a few months ago broadcast a documentary on how the country attracts many young Israelis to spend time there after they’ve done their national service. And a few weeks ago, the papers on this side of the North Sea reported that a sizable chunk of the British Jewish community had taken out German citizenship in opposition to Brexit. I’m not sure if the people, who did this will actually be moving to the Fatherland their grandparents and parents left. I think it’s like the various Brits, who took out Irish citizenship on the grounds that they had an Irish grandparent. They want the benefits of a connection to the EU through their ancestral homelands without actually moving there. But nevertheless, if Germany was the terrible, anti-Semitic monster that the Israeli bigots claim, somehow I don’t think the Jewish Brits now taking out German citizenship would want to do so.

Ditto with the Jews in France. Despite Marine Le Pen and her storm troopers, a poll of French people conducted after 9/11 found that 95 per cent of the population consider Jews French. Of course, this means that 5 per cent don’t, which is a problem. But the message there is that the overwhelming majority of French people aren’t anti-Semitic, at least in as much as they regard Jewish French people as their compatriots.

My guess is that the same is probably true of this country. I’m very much aware of the Nazi antics of the various NF/BNP splinter groups, such as the explicitly anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi National Action, whose leaders do believe in the obscene lies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They’re a pain and a menace. But they’re also miniscule, a mere handful of violent thugs. As for the mayor of London being anti-Semitic, excuse me, but ‘eh?’ If the film was made when Boris was mayor, this statement is wrong. Boris is, in my opinion, a vile individual, with racism one of his many unpleasant traits. But I’ve never heard him utter an anti-Semitic comment. All the racist remarks he’s made, or alleged to have made, seem to be about Blacks and Asians. If the remark is about Saddiq Khan, then again, I’ve never seen anything to indicate that he’s anti-Semitic. Unless, of course, this comes from the smear that somehow he supports Islamic terrorism. Which he doesn’t. He has associated himself, so I gather, with very conservative Muslim preachers, some of whom may hold anti-Semitic views. But this is speculation, and I’ve never heard or seen evidence that Khan himself is an anti-Semite.

As for America, the country is a staunch supporter of Israel, and very many of its favourite entertainers and celebrities are Jewish. Again, the Nazis, the Klan and the Alt-Right are out there, but the impression I’ve got is that, as a country, America has been very pro-Jewish. In fact amongst the American Conservatives, I’ve noticed that there is the perception that they believe that Europeans are all anti-Semites, and so view the rest of us on the other side of the Atlantic with suspicion.

The anti-Semitic incidents Shamir shows in this clip being discussed by the ADL are clearly in the movie because they are trivial. I don’t doubt that they’re annoying and distressing, to those to whom they occurred. I’m sympathetic to the frustrations and annoyance of the people, who couldn’t get time off to celebrate their religious holidays. With the rise of aggressive secularisation in Britain, it’s also happening to Christians over here. And I don’t like to hear people talking disparagingly about minorities. But these aren’t the same as assaults, and threats of physical violence. I am aware, though, that since Trump’s election Jewish businesses have been vandalised with Nazi slogans, including references to Kristallnacht, the infamous vandalism of Jewish shops and businesses by the Nazis.

But what is really chilling and outrageous is the way the Israeli education seems deliberately designed to reinforce these fears. It’s entire understandable and right that Israeli young people should visit Auschwitz, as an example of the massive campaign of extermination the Nazis initiated during the Holocaust. However, it is a chilling and vile smear that all of the Polish people are anti-Semites, and that these kids are to be kept away from them for their own protection. I’m very much aware that there is widespread anti-Semitism Poland, as there is in many other parts of eastern Europe. But I also know that the part of the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust also contains a list of the many righteous Polish gentiles, who risked life and limb to rescue and shelter their Jewish countrymen during the Nazi occupation of their country.

Part of the joy of travelling is that you meet the native peoples of the countries you visit. Not only does meeting and talking to them broaden your mind by exposing you to their culture and their frequently very different perspectives on events and issues, but they’ve also been an integral part in creating good international relations after the carnage of the Second World War. When I was studying German for my ‘A’ levels, one of the foreign excursions we were offered as an adjunct to the course, was to the Sonnenberg Conference in Hannover. This is an annual meeting of school students in Germany from across Europe. And I think it was set up, at least in part, to heal the divisions between Germany and the other peoples of Europe after the War. I didn’t go, but those who did really enjoyed it.

My old college, where I took my first degree, also offered an exchange with a Polish college. The students, who went on this also visited Auschwitz, naturally. But they also met and enjoyed the hospitality of their Polish friends and exchange partners. Those I talked to about this were really impressed at how hard Polish students worked, and the way they were able to achieve good grades and a thorough understanding of their subjects, despite serious shortages in the kind of equipment we take for granted over here, like stationary and pens.

I’ve no doubt whatsoever that meeting other people from all over the world broadens your outlook, and creates genuine international understanding. But these Israeli kids were denied that. They were to be kept separate, guarded, told to fear the Polish people around them. As for the two secret service agents with them, you wonder why they were there, and who they were protecting. It seemed to me that they were there not to safeguard the children from gentile attack or vilification, but to make sure they didn’t become too close to the Poles. The real danger there, according to the Israeli military and educational authorities, seemed to be that Israelis could become too friendly with the people they were intent to demonise as the terrible ‘Other’.

And this has created the fear that makes some Israelis see themselves as special. And this feeling that the world is against them has led to the Israeli authorities angrily denouncing any criticism of the barbarous treatment they mete out to the Palestinians as ‘anti-Semitic’. Because they’re taught by their school teachers and army instructors that everyone else is anti-Semitic, and so any criticism they make of Israel must come from this deep anti-Jewish racism, not because of a decent outrage against the persecution of one people by another.

Shamir’s film is also important for the perspective it gives on the anti-Semitism allegations in the Labour party. I’m sorry for bringing this up once again, now that so many of the people accused of anti-Semitism have been cleared, but Luke Akehurst and the Jewish Labour Movement are still around, and still likely to cause trouble. The people slandered as anti-Semites, in the vast majority of cases, were decent, non-racist and even actively anti-racist people, with proud personal histories of fighting against anti-Semitism. They were accused of anti-Semitism because they made the unforgiveable crime of speaking out against the persecution of the Palestinians, or trying to put the Holocaust into perspective of one of the very many genocides that have sullied human history.

The Israelis, and Zionists like Akehurst, need to demonise and vilify such people, in order to ward off the entirely justified criticisms of Israel and its own maltreatment of its indigenous people. They need to demonise the peoples of other countries, Jews as well as gentiles, as ‘anti-Semitic’, or, if they’re Jewish, ‘self-hating’, in order to create that sense of election that allows the butchers in the Israeli armed forces to kill and massacre without compunction.

This is a monstrous disgrace. There are very many Jews and Jewish organisations abroad and in Israel itself, which are committed to defending the Palestinians and trying to create a better, more just Israel and a free Palestine. They include not just secular Jews, but also deeply religious people versed in the Bible and the Torah. Those in Israel may be subject to horrendous persecution, simply for speaking out. I’ve mentioned before how Ilan Pappe, the Israeli historian, who writes extensively on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, was forced out of his teaching post and then his homeland by the authorities.

This xenophobia needs to be challenged. It needs to be taken into account whenever the odious Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, starts ranting about anti-Semitism and lying about his political masters’ abuse of the indigenous Arab population. It needs to be brought up whenever the Israel lobby in the Labour party start lying and smearing decent people as anti-Semites. Racism everywhere needs to be fought. This includes not just the disgusting xenophobia of the Nazis, the Holocaust deniers, and racial populists like Trump and Farage. It also means the Israeli system, that fills its young people with unreasoning terror of other nations, in order to deform their personalities to get them to perpetuate the same horrors Jews have suffered on the Palestinians.

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