Documentary Review –“Viral: AntiSemitism in Four Mutations”

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It is, in many ways, the Original Hate Crime, Conspiracy Theory Number One. The fact that it hasn’t gone away suggests that AntiSemitism is the hate crime that can evolve, mutate to match the conditions and shift in groups that buy into it and revive it.

“Viral: AntiSemitism in Four Mutations” is a brisk primer on the modern faces of hatred for “the Jews,” the “viral” way it spreads at the speed of the Internet, and the consequences of this renewed outbreak.

Documentarian Andrew Goldberg takes us into American hate crimes and visits with an outspokenly anti-Semitic N.C. politician. He then travels to Hungary, Britain and France for chapters titled “The Far Right,” “Blaming the Jew,” “The Far Left” and “Islamic Radicalization” — the four “mutations” this social ill has adapted in recent years.

We hear from survivors of the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Experts then relate how Donald Trump’s nationalism, embraced by the far-right/”Alt Right,” amped up the anti-Semitic rhetoric, with Trump’s own “dog whistle” use of tropes that Jews have “conflicting loyalties” and therefore aren’t patriotic Americans, set the stage for violent harassment nationwide, and attacks on synagogues in Pennsylvania and California.

A rabbi laments the end of America’s post-war “Jewish golden age” that events like this signal. Racial slurs all but disappeared, opportunities widened. But even now, “We will always be ‘the other’,” he says.

Goldberg visits a rural N.C. candidate for the State House, Russ Walker, who seems reasonable — liberal even — in his repeal drug laws, end “stop and frisk” platform. Then he gets into his feelings about Jews and other folks who aren’t White Like Him.

We’re treated to a history, in quick brush strokes, of the major anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the recent past that have not gone away — from the “Rothschilds” as manipulators of capitalism, conflicts and even the weather, to the loony, fictional “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” made famous when Henry Ford published a newspaper and pamphlets that spread the idea of a global Jewish conspiracy to control politics and the world’s wealth.

And we see how that has become official policy and out-in-the-open campaign rhetoric in modern day Hungary. If you think philanthropist George Soros is a boogeyman only as a Fox News talking point, you are mistaken. Hungary’s de facto dictator, elections manipulator and court-stacking Viktor Orban, has been running against Soros (a native of Hungary who has given billions to Hungary since the collapse of communism) in every election campaign since 2010. “Blaming the Jew” is his favorite stump speech.

Britain’s ongoing Labour Party (“far left”) version of anti-Semitism ties into hatred of capitalism, and of Israel and its Apartheid-like policies toward the Palestinians whom Israeli Jews have been displacing in Palestine for a century.

Then there’s France, where millions of Islamic immigrants from former French colonies have been raising children who feel limited, dispossessed and are ripe for Islamic radicalization and anti-Semitic violence.

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Goldberg knows the lay of the land, even if the perpetrators are a little different. This is his second film on the subject. He did “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century,” and has made films on Jewish culture and Jerusalem as well as the Armenian Genocide and “Out in America.”

The experts he rounds up for interviews range from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to journalists, academics and those left behind after a murderous hate crime attack in the U.S. and in France.

The film has informal “personal” touches — visiting a Goldberg relative in the UK to hear why he left the Labour Party — which lighten the parade of expert witnesses and their grim tidings. But the lack of news footage taking us more back to those terrifying crimes in a more immersive way is felt.

It’s not the deepest dive into the subject, either, barely hinting at the tribalism that’s red meat to anti-Semites looking for stereotypes that ring true and feed the “powerless” impulse that drives the conspiracies people buy into. Just a “perhaps we’re over-represented in the financial services industry” and “a bit better off” from one interviewee. One British Jewish media personality appears on camera, none from America, where that disproportionate presence is a constant criticism of the Alt Right.

But “Viral” is a sobering reminder that hatred of “the other” didn’t disappear after Pogroms and The Holocaust, and that it isn’t limited to jihadists and skinheads.

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MPAA Rating: Unrated, disturbing, racist images

Cast: Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Deborah Lipstadt, Fareed Zakaria, George Will, narration by Juliana Margulies and Andrew Goldberg.

Credits: Written and directed by Andrew Goldberg. A Dark Star release.

Running time: 1:23

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