February 21, 2020
by Carla Hay
“Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations”
Directed by Andrew Goldberg
Culture Representation: This documentary examines the rise of anti-Semitism in four countries: the United States, Hungary, the United Kingdom and France, featuring interviews with various people (almost all Caucasian) who are experts or have firsthand knowledge of the topic.
Culture Clash: Most of the people interviewed in the documentary say that anti-Semitism is a prejudice that has gotten worse in recent years, due to conflicts over economic uncertainty, immigration and more political leaders who openly express hatred of Jews.
Culture Audience: This movie will be of interest to anyone who is interested in contemporary news and social issues to find out the root causes of this bigotry and what can be done about it.
The excellent documentary “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” takes the concept that prejudice against Jews is like a viral infection that keeps spreading, and the movie focuses on four mutations in particular. Each mutation gets a chapter in the documentary.
“Chapter I: The Far Right” examines the far-right ideologies in the United States that have led to an increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes. “Chapter II: Blaming the Jew” puts the spotlight on Hungary and certain political leaders’ noticeable obsession with demonizing Hungarian Jewish billionaire George Soros. “Chapter III: The Far Left” takes a look at anti-Semitism in far-left factions of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party, as exemplified by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. And “Chapter IV: Islamic Radicalism” investigates anti-Semitism in France, particularly from radical Muslims.
Jewish actress Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife,” “ER”) provides narration in the beginning and end of the film, but the main narrator is writer/director/producer Andrew Goldberg, who’s also seen on camera interviewing some of the people in the documentary. Goldberg is a longtime journalist, and his expertise in newsgathering shows in the quality of this film. The editing by Diana Robinson (who’s also a producer of the documentary) is also top-notch. This is the type of movie that could be shown not only in traditional cinemas but also in schools and for groups that have an interest in news, anti-hate activism and other social issues.
In Chapter I, which covers anti-Semitism in the United States, among those who are interviewed are people who were witnesses or connected to the 2018 horrific mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people—the deadliest massacre of Jewish people in the United States. Those interviewed include Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Rabbi Jeffrey Meyers and former FBI agent Brad Orsini, who is currently security director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Meyers says that, based on the rise of anti-Semitic crimes in the U.S., the massacre was sadly inevitable. “To many, we will always be ‘other’ and not welcomed here,” he adds. Orsini has difficulty holding back tears, as he remembers witnessing the carnage at the scene of the crime, and he describes his current work in helping train synagogues in protecting themselves from these crimes in the future. Rabbi Elisar Admon of the Jewish Burial Society holds up a copy of a Hebrew Bible and shows a bullet hole that cut right through the word “God.” Admon says it’s a sign that even under the threat of violence, Jewish people “have to keep going” and never lose hope.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton believes that “economic stagnation” and a “feeling of powerlessness” fuel the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise in America. Meanwhile, former white supremacist Arno Michaels admits that when he was in a hate group, he would usually target young white Christians who had something wrong in their lives—whether it was an abusive home or other lack of support system—and tell them warped lies to feed their insecurities that their problems were caused people who aren’t white or Christian. Other people who weigh in with their observations about anti-Jewish hatred in America are “Antisemitism: Here and Now” author Deborah Lipstadt, journalist/CNN host Fareed Zakaria, conservative political commentator George Will and Eric Ward, an expert on bigotry-related violence.
In one of the most memorable sections of the documentary, director Goldberg travels to Hoke County, North Carolina, where he interviews former chemical engineer Russell Walker, who ran for the North Carolina State House of Representatives as an openly white supremacist Republican. Even though Walker lost the election, he still managed to get 37% of the votes. During the interview, Walker shows Goldberg one of his campaign signs. On one side, it says, “What’s Wrong With Being a Racist?” and on the other side it says, “God Is a Racist.”
The interview is an example of what several people mention is the documentary: Bigots don’t just look like the radicals seen marching at hate rallies or committing terrorists acts. Many of the worst bigots are friendly and polite to the faces of people they hate (as Walker is when he interacts with Goldberg), but behind closed doors, they are plotting dangerous ways to eliminate the people they consider enemies because of their races or religions.
Many of these bigots are running for political office and using patriotism to disguise their hate-filled beliefs. Some of the people in the documentary mention U.S. President Donald Trump and Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as two examples of politicians who have influenced the rise of anti-Semitism. (Some of the murderers who have committed the worst anti-Semitic crimes have quoted remarks made by certain politicians in power.)
The documentary’s Chapter II shows what many people outside of Hungary do not know: Hungarian native Soros, who has made sizeable donations to liberal politicians and liberal causes, has been labeled as the biggest Jewish enemy to Hungary. There are anti-Soros billboards, display signs and ads almost everywhere in Hungary that describe Soros as a Jewish “boogeyman/puppet master,” and Orbán frequently makes public remarks denigrating Soros. Hungarians interviewed in the documentary say that anti-Semitism in Hungary has been increasing for the past four years.
Chapter III of the documentary shows that in the United Kingdom, anti-Semitism has become more noticeable in the left-wing Labour Party, which has prided itself on having a “justice and equal rights for all” image. However, people interviewed in the documentary, such as former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Margaret Hodge (a Labour Party MP), say that economic uncertainty has fueled anti-Semitism for many British people who are on the far left of the political spectrum. Communist/Socialist-leaning left wingers who don’t like Western capitalist policies often see Israel as an ally to the West. This belief also plays into negative stereotypes that Jewish capitalists are greedy.
The documentary mentions that British politician Luciana Berger resigned as MP and left the Labour Party altogether in 2019. She says she quit the party because of anti-Semitism. Berger is now a member of the Liberal Democrats political party. Labour Party MP/chancellor John McDonnell says the Labour Party “hasn’t been quick enough in dealing with [anti-Semitism].” Many believe that Corbyn’s open distaste for Israel is based more on anti-Semitism than based on political beliefs. Several people in the documentary have cited Corbyn’s criticisms of Israel as causing divisions in the Labour Party and being one of the reasons for Corbyn’s downfall.
Chapter IV of the documentary has gut-wrenching descriptions of hate crimes targeting Jews in France, which experts in the documentary say is the nation with the highest-levels of anti-Semitism in Europe. Hate crimes against Jews in many other countries are often perpetrated by people who identify as Christians. But in France, the most high-profile hate crimes have been committed by people who identify as Muslim/Islamic.
One of the people interviewed is Jean-Luc Slakmon, who was an employee working at Hypercacher kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, France, on January 9, 2015, when a radical Islamic man held 19 people hostage and murdered four of them. Slakmon, who is shown in the documentary taking a Krav Maga self-defense class, believes his life was spared because of his diminutive height and because he fully cooperated with the gunman. Slakmon goes back to the scene of the crime, and his anxiety is visible, as he says being there is like reliving everything all over again. It’s obvious that he wants to break down and cry on camera, but he doesn’t.
Meanwhile, Valerie Braham also gives an emotional interview about the devastation caused by anti-Semitic hate crimes. Her husband of nearly 10 years, Philippe Braham, was murdered in the Hypercacher massacre. She describes what kind of man he was (a great husband and father) and how the family will never recover from the loss. Simone Rodan-Benzaquen of the American Jewish Committee in France says that it’s common for Jews in France to constantly think about moving out of the country.
What should people take away from seeing this movie? This is what director Goldberg said in a statement: “I am a filmmaker and journalist, not an activist. We tried very hard to make a documentary that was not just a report but an actual feature film people would want to see. Many asked us if we had a ‘call to action’ for how people could help fight antisemitism, or if we offered solutions. We purposefully did neither. I have always believed that a well-educated populace is where we need to begin for people to make the best decisions.”
Dark Star Pictures released “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” in New York City on February 21, 2020. The movie’s U.S. theatrical release expands to more cities, as of February 28, 2020.