By Paul Greenberg
LA JOLLA, California–By interviewing people in the United States and Europe, including a proponent of the pure German perspective and one of his followers who tries to resist looking into the eyes or even being touched by Jews because he considers them part of the devil, farmers, leaders of churches and their members, a French comedian, newspaper reporters who have covered anti-Semitic incidents, a German who supposedly left the right wing for something much tamer, and an Afro-American long married to a Jewish woman, rabbi-turned-filmmaker Naftaly Gliksberg explores in his documentary, Look Into My Eyes, the pervasiveness of contemporary anti-Semitism.
What he generally finds is familiar and not all that surprising: that anti-Semitism still exists in various forms in rural areas and big cities in the United States and Europe. What he also finds, however, is far more interesting, unexpected, and unsettling: that the anti-Semites on camera are more than willing to spew all kinds of pathetic examples, some subtle, of hatefulness towards Jews after first providing evidence that they don’t hate them.
To wit: a leader of a church in the United States explains that Jews are the Chosen People, the Passion isn’t anti-Semitic, and the Church doesn’t blame them for killing Jesus Christ. He later adds that Jews implore Christians who leave Israel to come back only because they want their money and Hitler wouldn’t have killed six million Jews if only the Jews had gone back to Palestine.
A German, Mahler, an attorney who left the right wing because it didn’t espouse a pure German perspective, argues that skinheads aren’t part of the devil but are part of the opposition youth culture. He later points out that the Jews have made two strategic mistakes: establishing the state of Israel and the cult of the Holocaust.
Another German, Randy, a Holocaust denier who supposedly left the right wing movement (and disavowed its ideology) in order to prevent the German authorities from taking away his children, is unwilling to part ways with his valuable Nazi flag and still possesses a copy of the Mein Kampf and a large collection of Nazi audio CDs and brochures.
A Black man in the United States, who chose to marry a Jewish woman and, according to Gliksberg: “goes to synagogue more than I do, professes an affiliation for Israel, the Jews, and Jewesses,” but nonetheless blames the Jews for the Crown Heights incident, doesn’t agree with the Jewish belief that whoever made this world made it a special place for them, and blames the Jews for moving into Crown Heights, which was once an almost exclusively Black neighborhood, so they could buy homes and sell them to the highest bidder.
An example of the more subtle form of anti-Semitism denial is exemplified by a French newspaperman whose own paper devoted four front page stories to the kidnapping for ransom and killing of a 23 year-old Jewish man. The alleged killer admitted that he kidnapped the man because Jews have money and can afford to pay the ransom, but the newspaperman denied that the killing was motivated by anti-Semitism, and explained in a convoluted and unpersuasive way that the perpetrators were simply street punks who didn’t have an anti-Semitic ideology but absorbed an anti-Semitic background expressed in their statement. He couldn’t explain why the paper would devote so much prominent space to a story simply about street thugs kidnapping and killing a young man.
Unfortunately, in ground that has been covered before in other films, Look Into My Eyes also tells the story of the killing of 42 Jews in Kelc, Poland, in 1946 who were thrown out of windows and beaten by the locals as they lay on the sidewalk in retaliation for an eight-year-old who went missing from his parents and claimed he was kidnapped by Jews.
The killings also were spurred by the locals who, assisted by the police, spread the rumor that Jews tried to kill him so they could get blood to make Passover matzoh. It also shows an interview with one of the heads of the National Alliance, a white separatist political organization based in the United States. Gliksberg gets into a discussion with the leader about whether one of the boots the group sells that has indentations in the form of a swastika on the bottoms is disrespectful because you are always stepping on the swastika. The leader points out that people with a white mindset, as opposed to those with a Jewish mindset, don’t see it that way: they just like the swastika, and, anyway, you can leave a swastika imprint when you walk in the snow and rain.
All-in-all, the film is at times captivating, made so by the disarming interviewing style of its filmmaker and the sadly idiotic responses of its subjects.
Look Into My Eyes, in Polish, Hebrew, German, and English with English subtitles will be shown at the AMC La Jolla on Sunday, February 21, at 1:30 PM as part of the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival. A panel discussion will follow.
Paul Greenberg is a freelance journalist based in University City area of San Diego.