The Culture of Guilt
we should be protecting Jews now, not defending Islamic groups who would kill us today! Yoav Shamir betrays sarcasm, but that sarcasm comes from the fact that Jews today like Yoav Shamir are not doing their job protecting the Jewish people. Yoav is part of a big problem, but he has worn the sheep skin of cultural righteous arrogance.
I’m not a Holocaust groupie. it doesn’t define me… so no. but the problem is people who let an irrational historical event like that define us. it is J Street politics and it is everything I am against. by using that mind view everyone becomes a victim of the Holocaust. every aggressor experiences their pain and death… it doesn’t make it a Holocaust. that doesn’t mean you can’t bring up the Holocaust. I criticize people like Mark Cuban’s brother Brian Cuban and the ADL just like I criticize everyone else. the ADL is a flawed organization that has given relevance to such hate groups such as Council on American-Islamic Relations that was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. If anything the ADL does not represent the values of insuring against, “never again”.. not sure if that was the answer that was a response to the article you presented me… but the ADL is hardly relevant these days. they don’t represent my views. the ADL is part of the problem and in general has led to an environment where it is responsible for a whopping 66.69%–or just over 2/3rds–of America’s religion-based hate crime incidents are committed against Jews. http://noahdavidsimon.blogspot.com/2009/11/exclusive-analysis-sorry-islamophobia.html ..all the pandering to Islamophobia is a front. and the ADL should be reprimanded for putting emphasis and playing the politics of equivalence.. Keep in mind there are pretty much the same number of Jews and Muslims in America: “In 2007, there were 969 reported hate crime incidents against Jews in America. In 2008, it’s 1,013. In 2007, there were 61 anti-Catholic incidents. In 2008, there were 75. For Muslims, in 2007 there were 115 reported incidents against them. In 2008, it’s 105. And all of this is despite the fact that unlike other groups, Islamic groups work overtime to get alleged Islamic victims to report hate crimes.”
Ain’t No Party Like a Holocaust Party
by Eric Kohn
Anti-semitism lurks in unsuspecting places, but only to those who seek it out. Defamation, Yoav Shamir’s provocative documentary, released in select theaters last week, conveys at least that much. But Shamir goes one step further, arguing that awareness of the eponymous offense is buried in a confusion of past and present. Adopting an intentionally naïve outlook, he cheerfully follows members of the Anti-Defamation League on missions to spread the international battle against Jewish hatred. Simultaneously, his camera trails a group of Israeli high-schoolers traveling to Auschwitz for a class. In both cases, the Holocaust engenders a peculiar backwards logic that Shamir knowingly assaults: He believes that battles against anti-semitism are too often defined by earlier infractions. If “Holocaust,” “Nazi” and “Anti-semitism” remain the key buzzwords in a battle against shadows, then the purpose of Defamation is to turn on the light.
Shamir explains that the ADL, led by tough-minded Holocaust survivor Abraham Foxman, operates on a budget of more than $17 million each year, allowing for a wealth of resources and the motivation to use them. As one rabbi—hesitant to reprimand the ADL, as if it were Big Jewish Brother—concludes, Foxman “has to create a problem because he has a job.” But what really irks Shamir is the sense of entitlement that appears to guide contemporary views of anti-semitism. He’s not arguing that the ADL has no value as an organization, but rather that it traffics in anachronisms. Shamir hits on this problem when he films the Israeli students watching concentration camp footage set to solemn music, projected off a laptop in the classroom. The students look alternately uncomfortable and bemused, searching for the intense feelings of dismay expected of them. It’s this presumption of gravitas, I suspect, that automatically catapults dismissible Hollywood encapsulations of Holocaust grief—I’m looking at you, The Reader—into the realm of sacred documentation. The pity party has become aestheticized.
That’s not to say that misperceptions and hurtful xenophobic perspectives no longer exist. Shamir follows reports of anti-semitism to Brooklyn, notes that many of the allegations there involve African Americans, and stops a few on the street to get their opinions on their Jewish neighbors. His energetic sampling comes off pretty well until one member of the group references The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that notoriously shameful piece of anti-semitic literature published in the late 19th century as if it were a Jewish plot to take over the world. But the reference is convoluted and the complainer sounds clueless. He’s not a crusader looking to spread anathema, nor does he sound like somebody in favor of another attempt at genocidal elimination. He’s simply operating under a misperception that dominant mainstream perspectives rejected long ago. He’s bought into a blatant delusion and that makes him an idiot. Duh.
Holocaust movies, however, suffer from a different sort of misdirection, one that many continue to take for granted. (In fact, Shamir could have strengthened his argument in Defamation by using sample footage from some examples in this trend.) The route to sentimentality in Schindler’s List is paved in guilt, generating a cinematic trope that percolates throughout countless entries in the genre. And while that film certainly has its share of powerful moments and deserves a spot in the canonization of Holocaust representation in cinema, there’s an implicit danger in the Schindler’s List effect. The movie, which quickly became the market standard for Holocaust narratives at the end of the 20th century, moves from the end of World War II to the present day with the ease of a quick scene transition and the introduction of color. With no added context, the finale places the selfsame Holocaust trauma into modern consciousness. It’s an admirable effort, but also an unrealistic one. (Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, which consciously remains in the present and refuses to show any explicit imagery, suggests the proper alternative approach.) The Holocaust, terrible event that it was, does not haunt contemporary Jewish identity as it did for the generation that experienced it firsthand. Yet it continues to define the efforts of modern attempts to suppress anti-semitism, and has become the royal passage to brooding discontent on the silver screen.
But the situation has started to improve. Last year, the Holocaust genre reached a fever pitch with The Reader, Valkyrie, Defiance, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Good, and Adam Resurrected delving into the topic as if it were the guiding edict of a blockbuster mentality. But only The Reader connected with a good amount of audiences and—thanks to a classic Harvey Weinstein coup—managed to sneak in a key role at the Academy Awards. Since then, Stuart Klawans called for a moratorium on Holocaust movies, and the industry appears to have paid attention. This year, the dominant Holocaust movie involves a bunch of Jewish soldiers gleefully scalping Nazi captives and ultimately changing the outcome of World War II. The Academy’s shortlist for documentaries, which almost always includes an obligatory Holocaust entry, contains not a single one (although the ultimate progressive stance would have been to put Defamation on there). Society seems to have engaged in a shift from the need to retell the same story ad infinitum to a point where the freedom to deconstruct its significance holds more weight than simple redundancy. At this point, telling the same events over and over again runs a greater risk—bored audiences—than figuring out what comes next. Shamir’s argument makes more sense than any given studio product, save perhaps for Inglourious Basterds. Storytellers stand a better a chance at coping with crimes of the past not by dwelling on them but by crafting fresh narratives out of old ones. In doing so, they can still evolve and—to borrow an overwrought term—never forget.
[Defamation is now playing in limited release. For playdates and more information, please visit the official site.]