Filmmaker behind 'drunk Jews' video denies fueling anti-Semitism
With 400,000 YouTube views, filmmaker says dialogue video spurred worth the death threats.
The controversy surrounding journalist Max Blumenthal continues in the wake of the release of his video of intoxicated American Jews in Jerusalem insulting President Barack Obama, but he rejects the claims that the footage fuels anti-Semitism.
The video shows young American Jews, who are apparently very drunk, criticizing Obama for his Mideast policies and describing him in derogatory terms. It has also had more than 400,000 hits on YouTube.
"I have received death threats from people, mainly ones calling me a self-hating Jew. I am self-hating, but my self-hatred has nothing to do with me being Jewish," Blumenthal told Haaretz this week.
Blumenthal says the ad hominem attacks against him and co-producer and cameraman Joseph Dana are being used to obscure the message of the video, and to ignore the statements made by young Jews who could be the relatives of any of us.
"People who feel they have an emotional need to stop this video by eliminating me, that's just a feature of right-wing psychology around the world," Blumenthal said.
If the responses on YouTube are any indicator, the video has elicited an inflamed response from both the left and right, uniting in anger groups as divergent as left-wing Israelis, Kahanists, neo-Nazis, and Islamic fundamentalists. The most ardent Israel supporters say the video merely pours gasoline on the flames of anti-Semitism and drives a wedge between Jewish Americans and African-Americans, who, like them, voted for Barack Obama in overwhelming numbers.
Dana and Blumenthal see as invalid the accusations that the video is exacerbating anti-Semitism and spreading hatred of Jews, and nothing more than an effort to suppress the discussion of painful issues in the Jewish community.
"Let me make this clear", Joseph states, "anti-Semitism is wrong, is fundamentally crazy, they [anti-Semites] will find ammunition for their insane war for themselves. I feel this is an issue for the Jewish community to address. I can't be held to the standards of crazy people. If we [Jews] get hung up on what anti-Semites will say, we'll miss what the point is of all this."
After the video went viral, Dana wrote on the Mondoweiss blog that the interviews shown depict the very core of the difficulties Obama will face in the Middle East and show "what Obama is up against."
For Blumenthal, who filmed the video as part of a month spent writing stories and making videos on Israel's politics, the racist, far-right statements made by the kids in the video are partly a result of the "indoctrination" he says he experienced firsthand during his time on a Taglit Birthright trip, a program which sends young Diaspora Jews to Israel to reconnect with their Jewish roots.
"I know this from my time on Birthright in 2002, and I was told that right where Israel signed the Declaration of Independence - I was told by an official Israeli tour guide that one day there would be a wave of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and we would have to flee to Israel, and he said that this wave would come about with a tone like he hoped it would happen because the Diaspora would have to be brought together. An official tour guide! This was one of the many moments that got me thinking."
Blumenthal and Joseph both admitted they knew only the most basic details about the backgrounds of the subjects in the video, with Blumenthal saying "if I'd known it would have such an impact, I would have made an effort to find out more." They could only confirm that from the statements the kids made, they were a mixture of American-Israelis, students on study abroad, Yeshiva students, and a few Birthright alumni.
"If you just look at the work I've done, I just record work and then I release it," Blumenthal said, explaining how the videos he makes differ greatly from the meticulous nature of traditional broadcast journalism.
This week, Blumenthal released a new video, filmed in Tel Aviv and showing anti-war protestors singing the president's praises. The video, "Israelis to Obama: Save us from ourselves!", references and parodies the original one shot in Jerusalem, and features a short interview with famous Israeli peacenik Uri Avnery and a low-level celebrity cameo by the doctor who inspired the film "Patch Adams."
More by Benjamin Hartman: