Friday, February 21, 2020

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

Things are already worse than when this film was locked. Less than two months ago, the nation was shocked by a violent attack on a Rabbi and his family in Rockland, New York. Perhaps even more concerning over the long-term, the presumptive front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination has recruited two high profile surrogates with a history of pushing anti-Semitic tropes: Linda Sarsour and Amer Zahr. They happen to be affiliated with the campaign of Bernie Sanders, who endorsed and campaigned for UK Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn, whose own troubling history features prominently in writer-director-on-camera presenter Andrew Goldberg’s Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations, which opens today in New York.

Goldberg examines four specific manifestations (or “mutations”) of antisemitism: far-right domestic terrorists in America, Hungary’s state-sponsored campaign demonizing George Soros, the Israel-hating far-left in England (personified by Corbyn), and Islamist terrorism in France. Frankly, he deserves credit for his non-partisan, equally penetrating treatment of both extreme sides of the spectrum. Arguably, the initial American section already feels dated due to the absence of the Rockland attack and the Jersey City shooting, which were rooted in very different ideologies, but are still probably too recent to put in sufficient perspective. Regardless, the hate-mongers and mass-murderers Goldberg covers are indeed alarming, particularly because they represent a wider trend.

Of the four mutations of antisemitism, Hungarian nationalist Viktor Orban probably practices the subtlest brand, which is a rather unsettling contention to suggest. Nonetheless, Goldberg and the Hungarians he interviews convincingly identify the age-old anti-Semitic imagery and motifs in his campaign against Soros. Admittedly, Soros is no angel (ask the Bank of England), but it is terrifying to see a state-funded propaganda campaign targeting a single individual.

Perhaps the gutsiest section of the film documents the depth and extent of Labour’s antisemitism that generated in over 1,000 complaints, according to media reports. Goldberg could have filled a twelve-hour documentary with Corbyn’s troubling comments, writings, and associations, but what he includes is more than enough to raise all kinds of questions regarding the British politician’s judgement. He also takes on former London mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone, who resigned from the Labour Party after bizarrely arguing Hitler was a Zionist.

Goldberg also deserves credit for forthrightly addressing the antisemitism of Islamist extremists, which might be the deadliest of the four mutations. This section probably best illustrates how easily the radicalized can be convinced embrace violence. It is also the hardest, most heart-breaking section to watch, because of Goldberg’s interviews with the widow of a man murdered during the Hypercacher kosher market siege and a survivor, who is still clearly plagued by post-traumatic stress.

Throughout Viral, Goldberg calls out Islamists, the alt-right, Orban, Livingstone, Corbyn and his Labour Party, and campus radicals whose rabid hatred of Israel too often manifests itself as antisemitic vitriol. (Arguably, Trump is unfairly lumped in with the “Jews-have-divided-loyalties” fever swamp. He actually argued Jews who do not vote for him are not sufficiently loyal to Israel, which is sort of the perverse polar-opposite position, but he has worse press to worry about.) Regardless, Viral is a level-headed examination of extremism metastasizing into hatred and violence, on a global scale. Recommended as an expose and a wake-up call for civil society, Viral opens today (2/21) in New York, at the Village East.