Friday, July 9, 2010
Defamation/ American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein
July 9, 2010
Defamation (2009) ***1/2
Directed by Yoav Shamir
American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein (2010) ****
Directed by David Ridgen & Nicolas Rossier
Defamation (2009)- Well-judged, brave exploration into modern anti-Semitism and what's provoking it. ***1/2 out of 5
American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein (2010)- Taut look at how a relevant voice can devolve into radicalism. **** out of 5
Both documentaries feature Norman Finkelstein prominently, and I'll get back to Dr. Finkelstein in a second. Both documentaries also aren't afraid to show experts articulating their strong, unapologetic viewpoints regarding one of the most controversial issues around--namely, the (lack of) virtue of the state of Israel. Both documentaries focus a bit more on the ultra-liberal Jewish argument that believes radical Zionism to be detrimental to the stature of Jews everywhere. Shamir himself ultimately reaches the conclusion in Defamation that overemphasizing the Holocaust might not be the best way for Israelis to comport themselves in this modern world where any anti-Semitism which exists does so in what ought to be described as a new anti-Semitism. According to many that he interviews, including Finkelstein, the anti-Semitism that caused the Holocaust no longer exists. Anti-Semitism has become an artificial construct by many who blindly promote the power of the state of Israel and the Israeli lobby in the United States.
The filmmakers behind American Radical don't push any agenda themselves, but they are willing to present Finkelstein's extreme views in all their hyperbolic glory. Finkelstein, who has been banned from entering Israel for national security reasons, has been fired for his rhetoric which involves accusing the Prime Minister of Israel of being a terrorist, and has been forced to move to Chicago because of New York's Jewish pride, knows what he's talking about. It's impossible to use emotional pleas of historic injustice when debating Finkelstein since he will have none of it considering that he believes that Israel exists for no other reason than to oppress, torture and kill Palestinians. What makes his stance even more surprising is that his mother was a Holocaust survivor.
The benefit of both documentaries is that they explore a topic that many think ought not to be examined in any sophisticated way. Many Jews are pro-Israel and there's nothing else that ought to be said against it. Many Palestinians are completely anti-Israel in the exact same way. Considering the violence and conflict in the Middle East, keeping one's mouth shut won't help make things better. At the same time, Finkelstein goes to the extreme, which is ironically shown more clearly in Defamation where he jokingly does a Nazi salute. He's a malcontent who has become so stuck in his own crusade that his voice almost becomes too abrasive to be taken seriously even if many of his arguments have merit. Defamation shows the power and borderline hypocrisy of the American Defamation League which spends its time fighting anti-Semitism around the world. Shamir successfully posits that the ADL is fighting against a classical definition of anti-Semitism that's irrelevant in today's society.
Israel is a hot button topic that runs the risk of alienating those who disagree. Considering the fact that Israel recently ambushed a cargo ship in a way that caused worldwide criticism and considering the fact that journalist Helen Thomas had to resign after saying that Israeli Jews ought to get out, this is an issue that's far from being resolved. The first step to resolution and peace is informed dialogue and debate. Both documentaries showcase different voices over the subject, and some actually prove more destructive than constructive. That being said, at least these filmmakers and the people within their films have the guts to take a stand.