Beyond paranoia: Anti-Israelism as a mutation of anti-Semitism
Interview with Monique Schwarz, filmmaker, whose shocking documentary will jab viewers out of their complacency on what is happening around them. Sadly, it takes courage to tell the truth about today’s anti-Semitism.
by Manfred Gerstenfeld
26 March 2016
Published in Israel National News
“Recently my new documentary Beyond Paranoia was released. It tells how close anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are. My original observations on this similarity go back to 1987 during the first Intifada. I was then living in Australia.
“I noticed that there were consistent terms being applied in describing Israel. These were often pejorative and emotional. They included expressions such as that Jews control the world and that the Israel Lobby controls the American President. I then became very aware that anti-Israel and anti-Zionist comments and attitudes were getting increasingly stronger throughout the world.”
Monique Schwarz is an Australian filmmaker who has been involved in the production and distribution of independent documentary films for the last thirty years. One of her movies Mamadrama – The Jewish Mother in Cinema, released in 2001 had very wide international television, theatrical and educational distribution, and is still being screened today.
Schwarz says: “This initial awareness gradually made me want to make a movie about how comments made about Israel and Zionism overlapped with the old traditional anti-Semitism, something I had experienced myself. I was born in Switzerland during the Holocaust to survivor parents and immigrated to Australia in 1950 from France.
“To expose the hatred of Israel I wanted to make a documentary which, in addition to pictures, would include interviews with experts. They could describe and analyze the various aspects of the overlay of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. They could illustrate how the main classic hate motifs have mutated and are then used against Israel. That seemed to me the best way to address both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.
“At the time, and still in many circles today the conventional wisdom is that anti-Zionist and anti-Israel comments are common criticism, which in an open society is acceptable. I approached people for funding the proposed film which elucidates the connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. Yet both Jewish and non-Jewish funding bodies commented that this view was extreme.
“They would thus not fund this outlook, however much it is based in reality. No one said ‘We won’t fund you because the idea is not interesting, or because we already have a film like this.’
“After the release of Mamadrama I started to work on Beyond Paranoia. I wanted this movie to send the key message that dangerous anti-Semitism is very much alive in the form of anti-Israelism.
“My co-producer Benzion Tidhar and I planned for a film shot on 16 mm film with a full crew. We realized however that money would not be forthcoming, and thus could not afford that budget. Yet I found the way Israel was portrayed in the world increasingly intolerable. Benzion and I decided that we had go ahead with the film at our own expense. It was almost a moral imperative. We sacrificed many things that make daily life a little more comfortable.
“I bought a Professional Video camera. We decided that we would do the production work ourselves, which video cameras allow you to do. Benzion did the sound, and I did camera and direction. Previously on my films, I had always worked as a director and sometimes I had also done some camera work, and as the producer/writer. This would help us as we could keep the costs down. Despite our economies, we have received many compliments on the film’s professionalism.
“The editor and I decided that Beyond Paranoia had to be visually shocking. It includes harsh Holocaust pictures. The music is tense and disturbing, almost like a horror movie soundtrack. This was deliberate, because we wanted to jab viewers out of their complacency,
“The interviewees gave a broad picture of how anti-Semitism developed, what its key motifs are and how these return in anti-Israelism. All people I wanted to interview for the film agreed, with one exception. A Muslim Israeli Arab decided for his own security that he could not be in this documentary. A number of interviewees did not end up in the final cut of the film. That is uncomfortable for me and probably disappointing for them. Yet it is the nature of filmmaking.
“The Israeli premiere was screened in February 2016 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. We made it as a memorial tribute to the leading anti-Semitism scholar Prof. Robert Wistrich, who suddenly passed away last year. I found him very inspirational in our conversations and he is an important interviewee in the film.
“From the various interviews I learned several important things. The most dramatic was that the similarity in anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, which I had observed more than ten years ago had increased even further. I also had never before seen clearly the common elements in Christian, Muslim and Nazi anti-Semitism. Nor did I realize the degree to which important elements of Nazism are inherent in the ideology of many Arab countries.
“Many people have told me how courageous I was for making this film. Most disturbingly these reactions underline the constraints on the freedom of expression in contemporary society.”
Disclosure: the author is interviewed in Beyond Paranoia