For a forthcoming television documentary and DVD about contemporary anti-Semitism, New York producer Andrew Goldberg interviewed academicians, theologians and journalists on four continents. Many of the experts were Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East, because, as the documentary shows, that region is the source of most anti-Semitism today.
For another, less-intellectual, perspective, Goldberg also wanted a look at public opinion, the “Arab street.” So he went to an Arab street.
One overcast afternoon last year, Goldberg’s six-person crew unloaded its van on the median of a wide road on the outskirts of Cairo and began filming. The area, Goldberg says, was residential but with few residents and many unfinished apartment buildings.
Working with an Egyptian interpreter, Goldberg asked passersby their opinions of Israel and the Middle East peace process. He approached a group of teenage boys.
“Do you know any Jews?” Goldberg asked one of the youths.“No.”
“What do you think of Jews?” Goldberg asked.
“We hate them.”
“What would you do if you saw Jews right now?”
“We would kill them,” the teen said, speaking for his friends.
That interview did not make the final cut for “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” Goldberg says. “It was the exception.”
The hour-long documentary hosted by veteran television journalist Judy Woodruff, which traces the roots of anti-Semitism to interpretations of Christian scripture and introduces such familiar expressions of anti-Semitism as the blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and finally, the Holocaust, presents a balanced picture, neither downplaying nor exaggerating the threat posed to Jews today. It quotes Arab voices of hate and voices of moderation.
The program focuses on the recent growth of anti-Semitism, especially among young Arab-Muslim immigrants in Europe, which is fueled by the media, the mosques and other opinion leaders in the Middle East, and spread instantaneously via the Internet and satellite TV back to Europe.
Europe, which makes headlines for attacks against Jews and Jewish sites, “is not the whole story,” Goldberg says. “Europe is a symptom. The core problem grows in the Middle East, in the Arab and Muslim world,” as an outgrowth of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict.
“Anti-Semitism in the region is further complicated because the lines between references to the State of Israel, and to Jews as people are often blurred, making distinctions nearly impossible,” Woodruff states in the documentary.
“Israel is a catalyst, not a cause [of anti-Semitism],” Goldberg says. “It would happen without Israel.” He adds, “Anti-Semitism is inseparable from the Arab-Israeli conflict, [which is] perceived in the Middle East as a Jewish issue.”
“Anti-Semitism is an important human rights issue,” says Goldberg, who has produced a documentary on the vanished world of European Jewish culture, and several that deal with the early 20th-century genocide of Turkey’s Armenian population, and is at work on a study of Jerusalem as the center of three faiths.
He spent two-and-a-half years on the anti-Semitism documentary, updating it for developments in Iran and Lebanon.
Part of his inspiration, he says, was the murder in 2002 of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl by Muslim extremists in Pakistan.
The program features incendiary clips from Arab-language dramas, a college student in Syria who calls the Protocols a “true book,” and an Egyptian television producer who calls a blatantly anti-Semitic series “a historical show.”
Among the experts interviewed are Princeton University’s Bernard Lewis, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius and the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris.
Goldberg filmed in Egypt and Syria — in addition to the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian territories, France, Belgium, Germany and England — because “if you want to study anti-Semitism, you talk to anti-Semites. The true experts on anti-Semitism are the anti-Semites.”
Goldberg says he had “total access” in Egypt and Syria; sometimes an undercover police unit accompanied him, for the crew’s protection.
While most of the people he interviewed in Egypt and Syria held openly unfavorable views about Jews and questioned Israel’s right to exist, no one, besides the teen in Cairo, spoke of inflicting physical damage on individual Jews, Goldberg says. And he, a Chicago-born Jew whose religious identity was usually known among interviewees in the West Bank’s Ramallah, and sometimes in Syria, says he was never threatened or harmed.
“You have to differentiate the population [of Arab and Muslim countries] from the leadership,” who use anti-Semitism for political means and call for “holy wars” against both the State of Israel and Jews elsewhere.
Individual residents of those lands, Goldberg says, “don’t hate Jews. They don’t hold a sustained desire to harm Jews as people.
“If you were to walk down the street in Syria with a sign ‘I am Jewish,’ no one would bother you,” he says.
The chief threat of contemporary anti-Semitism, the documentary states, is physical attacks on Jews in Europe, and the still-political attacks against Israel.
“I think for Israelis it is a real daily threat, something to worry about,” David Ignatius of The Washington Post says in the documentary. “I think that when the president of Iran says he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the map at some level he really means it.”
The teenager whom Goldberg interviewed in Cairo, who said he would kill a Jew on sight, answered one final question.
What would you do, Goldberg asked him, if you saw a Jew hit by a car?
“We’d call an ambulance,” the youth said.
For many Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East, Jews exist as an object of hatred “in the abstract,” but not in the flesh, Goldberg says. “They have not spent a lot of time thinking about it. They don’t have anyone educating them.”
In the Middle East, dislike of Jews does not get translated into actual acts of violence, as happened in Europe for centuries, Goldberg says. “It’s far more complicated. It is not one-dimensional.”
“Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” produced in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting, will premiere Monday, Jan. 8 at 10 p.m. For information: www.twocatstv.com.
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