March 25, 2005
Movie balances views
Director pleased that both left and right hate his film.
It is possible to view Igal Hecht's wrenching film Not in My
Name and not know where the filmmaker stands on the issues it
raises. Not so over coffee with the Toronto filmmaker, whose documentary
about the global left's assault on Israel sees its world première
April 9 at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival.
Behind the camera, Hecht may be balanced and fair. Talking one-on-one
with the Bulletin, he is angry, passionate, condemnatory
and an unequivocally pro-Israel leftist.
"I'm pissed off that I have to do a film like this about the
left," said Hecht, who immigrated to Toronto with his family
from Ashkelon, Israel, at age 11. "I was pissed off that my
left has been hijacked by radicals and just loons, complete crazies,
who will do anything [including] lie."
In the film, which profiles a variety of North American anti-Zionist
activists, most Jewish, some not, Hecht allows partisans on both
sides to hang themselves. Racism, ignorance and impoliteness is
rampant on both sides of the pro- and anti-Israel divide, as the
film documents, but so are well-intentioned, soft-spoken and thoughtful,
informed activists. It may be easy to condemn the violent imagery
and hateful rhetoric on either side, but Hecht has made it impossible
for either side to claim moral high ground, with shots of Zionist
activists slurring and intimidating opponents and critics of Israel
employing the most despicable imagery of stars of David transformed
Despite Hecht's emphatic personal views, his film leaves conclusions
to the viewer.
"I am a documentary filmmaker, not a propaganda filmmaker,"
he said. "These are the facts. This is what's happening. This
is the truth. You make up your own mind about it. I'm not going
to tell you what to think. I'm not Michael Moore. I'm not your brain."
Though the film's première is not until next month, focus
groups have already seen it and the left and right agree on one
thing: they hate it.
"The left thinks this is an anti-leftist movie," Hecht
conceded. "The right thinks it's a completely pro-left movie.
Both left and right hate this movie."
That's fine with Hecht.
"If we don't seek out the balance, we're doing the exact same
thing they're doing. We're spreading propaganda."
Hecht rails against Canadian activists who declare there is no need
for a Jewish state in the world.
"A lot of them say we don't need a Jewish state," he said.
"Who the hell are you to say we don't need a Jewish state?
Who the hell are you to speak in my name? You're not going to speak
in my name as a member of the Jewish left and tell me that I don't
need a Jewish state.
"How come you're not out there?" he said. "How come
you're not out there with signs saying occupation is wrong, but
so is terrorism. How come you're not out there with signs saying
stop killing Jews? Why is it all these protests are only anti-Israel
and never critical of the Palestinians?"
Hecht said his political home has been taken over.
"In the last five years, my left has been hijacked by extremists
and by anti-Semites and by racists who have finally found an opportunity
to delegitimize and really attempt to destroy the state of Israel,"
he said. "Leftist Jewish filmmakers applaud them and praise
them and put them on pedestals, as if they're gods, these leftist
Jews who choose to criticize Israel."
The oft-repeated refrain that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism
is a carefully constructed defence, Hecht said, but a false dichotomy.
"You can be critical of Israel," he said. "You can
be anti-Zionist. The problem is, for all those people who say they're
anti-Zionist and not anti-Semites, the line is very murky now. You've
allowed evil, you've allowed racists to come into your midst. You've
allowed them to practise anti-Semitism and just change one word
- call it anti-Zionism. And Jews are standing with these people,
standing should-to-shoulder with them.
"They see Israel as the biggest Jew. You topple the biggest
Jew, the little ones will follow," Hecht said. "On campuses,
I always hear 'the Jews, the Jews.' If you don't believe me, take
a step back and listen to what people are saying in various protests.
They'll see: It's the Jews. It's always the Jews."
The fundamental willingness to accept violence as a political tool
undermines the other values the left claims, said Hecht.
"What is the left thinking, saying that it's OK to strap on
a bomb to achieve your political goals," Hecht said, adding
that there is always a caveat. "They get away by saying, 'We're
against suicide bombing, but we understand it.' In all due respect,
if you understand it, you support it.... If you're out there and
you're saying 'It's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong,'
then I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But they're not doing
that, are they?
"They need to realize that they have turned the left into an
illegitimate political movement and a racist movement," Hecht
Hecht, whose film company is titled Chutzpa Productions, was in
Vancouver recently on his way to Seattle for a screening of another
of his films, The Chosen People, about messianic groups such
as Jews for Jesus. In all, Hecht has been involved in 40 productions
and this year marks his 10th film as director. The first film that
gained him wide attention was Y.I.D., in which he criticized
the way the Toronto Jewish community responded to Israeli immigrants.
"My films always deal with contemporary Jewish issues and issues
that nobody wants to deal with in the Jewish community, issues that
are going to piss people off; hence, Chutzpa Productions."
Not in My Name premières April 9, 10 p.m., at Pacific
Cinémathèque. Hecht will be in attendance. Further
information about the 17th annual Vancouver Jewish Film Festival,
which runs April 7 to 17, is available at www.vjff.org.
Pat Johnson is a B.C. journalist and commentator.