The Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life building is one of the anti-Semitic “mutations” writer, director and producer Andrew Goldberg explores in his new documentary, “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations.”
Examining the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, England, France and Hungary, Goldberg traveled to those four countries to speak firsthand with victims, witnesses and anti-Semites. The documentary also features interviews with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Fareed Zakaria, George Will and Deborah Lipstadt.
Goldberg spoke with the Chronicle about the documentary, which opened last week at the AMC Waterfront.
What made you decide to do this documentary now?
Right around the time of the election, we saw several upticks in anti-Semitic incidents. There were a number of bomb threats at various JCCs, there were cemeteries that were vandalized and there was a march that was organized against a Jewish woman in Whitefish, Montana. This culminated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they chanted “Jews will not replace us.” This was a trend that we started to see where anti-Semitism was really rearing its ugly head in a way that we had not seen to this degree in the previous years. So put all together, it really made sense for us to make this film. And it turns out, things have only gotten worse.
What was it that allowed these hate groups to come out publicly?
There was a real pressure that was building when Obama was president. Members of these groups looked around and saw Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ Americans, African Americans getting more rights. This has been going on for decades, but they began to feel threatened. Suddenly, there was an African American president. The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates described it as “blacklash” against Obama. This was their response. As one person I spoke with put it, “the sewer covers were blown off, and everything started to come out.” It was there to begin with.
I think the (2016) election was a kind of Miracle Grow for a problem that was already pretty bad. It just had not shown itself to the degree that it later did.
The documentary looks at anti-Semitic incidents initiated by both the far right and the far left. It’s odd to see two groups on different ends of the political spectrum use the same tactics.
I think what you see is age-old grievances, age-old ideas, expressing themselves in different ways. This is what we talk about in the film with the idea of a virus and a virus having mutations. If you look at the language that the left and the right use, they talk about Jewish power, they talk about Jewish conspiracy, they talk about Jews being bad actors.
In the case of anti-Semitism on the left, a lot of it claims to focus on Israel. If you unpack it, you find really there’s a real disconnect between what’s happening on the ground and their motives, and what may or may not be happening thousands of miles away. But still, the conversation is about Jewish power, that the Jews are out to colonize the Middle East, the Jews are out to harm and cause pain to their neighbors in the Middle East.
It’s very hard because if you look at it all by itself, the claim is that it’s just a left-wing person with good intentions, trying to stop a bad action from taking place. That’s the claim but somehow it ends up becoming anti-Semitic. The same language is what you see on the far right, “Jews are powerful, Jews are evil, Jews have bad intentions and therefore, we must do things to stop Jews.” A lot of this comes down to stopping Jews from their nefarious plans.
The Pittsburgh shooter claimed that a Jewish organization was bringing immigrants into the country. The people on college campuses claim that the Jews are out to harm the Palestinians. In both cases, Jews are being accused of either doing or wanting to do evil things.
How did you decide to focus on the four “mutations” of anti-Semitism you selected?
We picked the left, the right, the government and anti-Semitism from Islamic radicals. We felt that those were the four most visible spaces these mutations currently occupy. There are others, but what it boiled down to is we saw four primary spaces where these activities were taking place.
Did you come to Pittsburgh to film?
Yes, we were there the day of the shooting, we came again and shot inside the Tree of Life building and a third time to spend an extended period of time with (Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s former security director) Brad Orsini. In addition to Brad Orsini, the film includes Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman and Andrea Wedner, who was injured in the shooting.
Are there any takeaways from the Pittsburgh part of the film, or overarching messages in general?
We didn’t give people any kind of a call to action. I don’t know what I would tell people to do. For me to end the film and say something like, “We need more education,” it would fall flat. What we wanted to do is report because we felt that this is an issue that is underreported and needs more attention. So, our goal is to inform. PJC
“Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” is currently playing at the AMC Waterfront. Check with the theater for days and times.
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.