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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 into swastikas.

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 said.

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

Pat Johnson is a B.C. journalist and commentator.