January 25, 2010

Defamation maker resents defamation

The maker of the Defamation documentary, Yoav Shamir, has defended his work against what he claims is defamation by one of the only heroes in the film, Dr David Hirsh. The documentary, for the third time (at least), is here. Hirsh's Comment is free piece is here and Yoav Shamir's response to Hirsh is here. In case you've read none of the previous posts on this, Channel 4 on Youtube describes the Defamation documentary thus:
Yoav Shamir's personal exploration of a sensitive contemporary issue asks "What is anti-Semitism today?" Is it a real danger that requires eternal vigilance or a tactic used by Zionists to discredit their critics?
Whenever Hirsh beefs about anything it's hard to tell for sure what the beef is or indeed where the beef is but let's try this:
Shamir makes me into the hero of the film. Normally I would enjoy being the hero but in this case he constructs my heroic status by misrepresenting what I do and what I say.

I am shown making criticisms of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians as though this was something controversial. I am shown arguing that contemporary antisemitism is in part a mystification of the real conflict, transformed by racist language and grotesque narratives. I actually said more that day than the one-sided soundbite that Shamir wanted to hear.

There were some hard rightwingers at the conference who hated what I said and who heckled me. There were some anti-racists who liked what I said and congratulated me. Like in any other movement against racism, there are significant political differences in the global struggle against antisemitism. Dina Porat, who is shown angrily arguing with me is not all that scary! I gave a presentation at her own centre at Tel Aviv University the following day and we had a serious scholarly discussion.

Three of the key figures at the Global Forum are genuine liberals and antiracists: John Mann, the British Labour MP, Gert Weisskirchen, the veteran German Social Democrat and Irwin Cotler, the Canadian human rights lawyer and politician. The overwhelming majority of the Israelis at the conference were two-staters, people who have been committed for decades to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Shamir preferred to present the story as a group of dishonest rightwing defenders of Israel being confronted by one heroic British sociologist. Very nice, but not a true picture.

Hirsh had another beef which I emphasis here:
Since that conference Israel has lurched to the right, as has the ministry of foreign affairs, which is currently headed by Avigdor Lieberman, a man who garnered votes in the general election by rhetorically threatening the position of Arab citizens of Israel. I suspect somebody in the ministry saw Defamation, because although I was invited to the conference this year, I was not asked to speak. Here is my report of this year's event.
Before getting to what was really on his mind Hirsh accused Shamir of aiming for all manner of "easy targets" but I think given his lamenting not being invited to speak at the latest Israeli Foreign Ministry pantomime on anti-semitism he is seeking to distance himself from what he actually said at the conference. In fairness he said that the occupation is generating anger towards Israel but that is no excuse for anti-zionism:
One of the reasons why so many people around the world are angry with Israel is because of the continuing occupation of Palestinian land and because Israel, which has state power, has not done enough to end the occupation. Such an occupation cannot be sustained without racism, violence and humiliation against the people who are occupied.

Jews are involved in a real conflict in the Middle East where not all the rights and wrongs are on one side, where neither nation has always acted wisely and where in the absence of peace, things can only get worse.

When Jews are involved in conflicts there is a danger that the ways people think about those conflicts get mystified in the language of antisemitism. Anti-Zionism is not a reasonable response to the actual situation; it is a response to a narrative of the actual situation which has become mystified by antisemitism.
Shamir's response really misses the main point but given how he portrayed Hirsh in the film, he may not have known Hirsh at all. Certainly, everyone that is familiar with his work was surprised at how he came across in the film. It's funny how he claims that opposing the occupation is uncontroversial and yet he thinks it's the most natural thing in the world to prevent him from speaking at a conference on antisemitism because he is now on record as an oppponent of the occupation.

Shamir chooses to reject the charge that he selected easy targets. His article is very informative and it shows his difficulty in being loyal to family, maybe even to tribe whilst being loyal to ideals:
In David Hirsh's critique of my film Defamation, he accused me of finding "easy targets" as subjects for my film. I can only assume that "targets" is common terminology for him; quite simply, all the subjects in my film (including him) are people who willingly chose to participate.
He then goes one by one through the subjects Hirsh describes as easy until he gets to Hirsh's real beef. For example, Hirsh took issue with Shamir using his grandmother's classic zionist antisemitism so here's Shamir:
My grandmother loved the film and was proud to take part. Hirsh sees her as an "easy target", and although I personally completely disagree with what she stated on camera, her perspective represents the very early Zionists thinkers such as Nordau, who wrote Degeneration, and Herzel, "the visionary of the [Jewish] state". This small and marginal group (representing less than 3% of the entire Jewish population at the time) were young, secular, socialist Jews who wanted to create a "muscle" Jew; a Jew who would be different from all of what they resented in their parents' generation. My grandmother is a genuine representative of this school of thought. She opens the film, not only because she is a great character who expresses what many people of her generation and, in fact, many Israelis feel toward diaspora Jews, but she is a reminder of the vicious cycle that Zionism became caught in – the state that was supposed to be a cure for what antisemitism started, as both Foxman and Finkelstein are actually saying, has ended up generating antisemitism.
I threw that in because zionist antisemitism is a theme we often return to here and Shamir's grandmother is a still living example of the genre. Now the beef:
Hirsh concludes his article by regretting that he was not invited to speak at this year's conference about how to combat antisemitism convened by the Israeli foreign office, which he attributes as probably caused by his appearance the film. But I can inform him that, at this year's conference, Abe Foxman stated that the situation of antisemitism is the worst since the second world war, just as he had said last year and just as he will probably say next year, too.

At the conference I filmed, Hirsh regrets he came out as a hero – his interpretation, of course, as I never declared him one. But in that year, he was the only one speaker who said anything disputing the general consensus and for that, I thought he deserved credit.

Nope, it's not just Hirsh's interpretation. Even a Palestinian commenter to JSF thought Hirsh came out of the documentary very well, surprisingly well. But I want to return to this idea that it was Hirsh criticising the occupation that led to his not being asked to speak at the latest Israeli Foreign Ministry conference on antisemitism. As I said, Hirsh appears to believe that being a critic of the occupation is sufficient grounds to bar someone from addressing a conference on antisemitism. But Hirsh may have stumbled on the reason he wasn't invited to speak earlier than his mention of "somebody in the ministry [who] saw Defamation".

It was his mention of the new chair of the procedings, Avigdor Lieberman. I don't know when the invites for the latest panto by Israel's Foreign Ministry went out but Hirsh had a letter in the Jerusalem Post just last month in which he berated Lieberman's "rhetoric":
Of course, it does not help the fight against anti-Jewish racism that this conference is hosted by Avigdor Lieberman, a man who has done nothing to demonstrate an understanding of how best to oppose racist ways of thinking.
Sour grapes that Hirsh couldn't speak at Lieberman's rally? Or the reason Hirsh wasn't invited? Or is it the case that people that say anything against the occupation will be barred from any conference claiming to be on antisemitism when they are run simply to silence the critics of Israel, even loyal critics like Dr Hirsh.

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