Documentary filmmakers say antisemitism is going “Viral”
By Stacey Dresner
The documentary “Viral: in Four Mutations” now streaming on PBS on Demand through June 26, makes the case that antisemitism is infecting the world.
“Antisemitism behaves like a virus,” said Andrew Goldberg, the film’s director. “It spreads from person to person; it changes, it morphs, it adapts; and it generally is very difficult to stop.”
In making “Viral,” Goldberg and Robinson traveled to four countries to examine distinct instances where antisemitism has reached a fever pitch. – Hungary, where the government has
The film also features interviews with several victims, witnesses, antisemites, and personalities like Bill Clinton, Deborah Lipstadt and Tony Blair.
Goldberg and Robinson spoke with the Ledger about “Viral,” and the insidious antisemitism that the film documents.
JEWISH LEDGER (JL): Why did you feel this was the time to make this documentary?
ANDREW GOLDBERG (AG): It was right around early 2017 that we started to see an uptick in antisemitism and to see more incidents and more discussion about it, certainly among the Jewish community. I had a sense that things were going to get worse, as did our producer, Diana Robinson. We thought we saw the writing on the wall and unfortunately, as we started to make this film things just got worse and worse until the point that they really went off-the-charts worse.
JL: Why did you name the film “Viral?”
AG: Two reasons. “Viral” is how something spreads on the Internet and so much hate is on the Internet now. Also, antisemitism behaves like a virus. It spreads from person to person; it changes, it morphs, it adapts; and it generally is very difficult to stop, because as soon as you put an obstacle in its path it will just adjust itself to get around it. It’s virtually un-killable.
JL: Diana, you’re from Pennsylvania. Did the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh hit close to home?
DIANA ROBINSON (DR): It hit home in a way that was really uncomfortable, actually. My mother’s best friend is Jewish and is from Squirrel Hill [where the synagogue is located] and so, it was a terrifying moment. I had been working on this film for a year and a half at that point. I’m not Jewish. I come from a basic understanding of antisemitism and I had spent the past year and a half getting to a point where I really understood it…And then to have it happen in my home state – a place that I had a connection to – was incredibly upsetting. The day the shooting happened we got in an SUV and drove there. It was just a surreal and upsetting experience.
JL: Why did you pick the four examples of “mutations” of antisemitism to feature in the film?
(AG): [These four examples] represented what we believe are the four most visible contact points of antisemitism – the far right; the far left; [antisemitism] coming directly from the government; and from Islamic radicals. Those I think are the four biggest threat points. But again, keep in mind that it’s changing every day and it’s adapting itself every day and it’s showing itself in different countries and in different ways.
So, for example, you have Belgium that just a year ago had a parade that included a float with what looked like money-grubbing Jews. The parade got in trouble for that. And then they had it again last month. I don’t even know what that is called. Is it the far right? Is it the far left? Is it old conspiracy theories from several hundred years ago rearing their ugly head again?
JL: Did anything surprise you when you were filming?
(DR): The one really interesting thing for me was in Hungary. Basically from the moment we drove away from the airport, it seemed like every hundred feet or every two minutes you saw a giant billboard of George Soros with a sneering smile on his face – very menacing looking – with text in Hungarian saying something to the effect of “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.” It was this large-scale propaganda campaign that was drawing on the kind of imagery that was used by the Nazis. Not only was it condoned by the government, it was used by the government as a political tool to make George Soros, this American businessman, into an evil boogeyman who represents a menacing threat to Hungary. The government has run a propaganda campaign for years on end saying that migrants are coming into Europe, they are going to come into Hungary and take over Hungary and they are going to destroy the country for Hungarians. [The billboards say] George Soros is behind all of this and it rings of a classic antisemitic trope seen in the 20th century, which is profoundly concerning. I was floored by the volume of it.
(AG): I’ve been in this field for a long time. I wouldn’t say it surprises me, because we have seen it before. But it surprises me how strong it’s coming back. I think there was a gigantic mute button that got pushed after the Holocaust. Europe was on better terms with Jews after the Holocaust than before. It was a marked difference. You saw Germany, in particular, really making up for it, making efforts to reconcile itself…with the Jewish community, both in Germany and around the world, and of course, with Israel.
Well, now you have a lot of extreme hate crimes against Jews happening in Germany, both on the far right and from Islamists who live there. Who would ever have thought that we would be hearing this stuff from Germany again?
As the generation that experienced the Holocaust firsthand cycles out, the next generation forgets. So, if you were to say to me, “Do you feel the pain of the Holocaust in your life?” I would say, “Yes,” because I knew Holocaust survivors. My kids will never meet a Holocaust survivor. The Holocaust will be to my kids what maybe the First World War was to me. It was something in the history books. And so as the Holocaust moves farther away, it gets much easier for these voices of hate to emerge again. There’s no one to remind them of what the danger is.