There are two aspects of Andrew Goldberg’s documentary about the virulent rise of anti-Semitism around the world that are immediately disturbing. The first is that this is the second film he’s made about the subject, after 2007’s Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence. The second is that this latest effort, Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations, barely scratches the surface of its subject matter.
The fast-paced, anecdotal documentary, narrated by actress Julianna Margulies, begins in powerfully dramatic fashion, with audio from 911 calls about the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in which 11 Jewish worshippers were brutally murdered by a far-right fanatic. We’re then introduced to Russ Walker, a candidate for the North Carolina State House, who seems like a reasonably sensible, moderate politician until he unveils his true feelings about minorities, including Jews. He proudly holds up two of his campaign signs, one reading, “What is wrong with being racist?” and the other, “God is a racist.” His explanation for the latter would be funny if it weren’t so appalling.
A terrifying, and sadly necessary, warning.
Divided into such sections as “A Quick History of Jews Being Blamed for Things” (if you’re wondering, they include killing Jesus, the Black Plague and being in charge of all the financial and media institutions), the film explores various outbreaks of anti-Semitism that have occurred in recent years. Author Deborah Lipstadt, one of several notable figures interviewed onscreen, points out that anti-Semitism is a “conspiracy theory,” one that seems to be forever updated to suit the times. For instance, the Rothschild family, a centuries-long favorite boogeyman for anti-Semites, is currently being blamed in some quarters for climate change.
A section about the far-right’s widespread condemnation of “globalists,” which is a euphemism for Jews, concentrates on Hungary. There, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has rallied many of his followers with his intense propaganda campaigns against immigrants, especially Muslims, and his demonization of Hungarian-born businessman and philanthropist George Soros, who is, of course, Jewish. And a Holocaust survivor to boot. It’s estimated that some 42 percent of Hungarians currently hold anti-Semitic views.
Another example is England, where the far-left Labour Party, and its leader Jeremy Corbyn, has garnered much controversy with its intense antipathy towards Israel, specifically its treatment of the Palestinians. Although Corbyn isn’t interviewed in the film, Goldberg does manage to engage in a friendly chat with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, another Labour politician, who once stated that Adolf Hitler actually supported Zionism before he “went mad.”
Finally, there’s France, which has been beset in recent years by a wave of anti-Semitism that has resulted in numerous violent incidents, including the attack on a kosher supermarket by a militant Islamist who murdered four patrons before being shot dead by police. Goldberg talks with the widow of one of the victims, who emotionally recounts how she now takes great precaution to hide her and her children’s Jewishness while venturing out in public.
Featuring insightful if not particularly revelatory comments by such figures as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Fareed Zakaria and George Will (the filmmaker seems to be nothing if not connected), the documentary emerges as a bit scattershot in its approach. Although touching on a multitude of aspects of its disturbing subject matter, it never really digs particularly deep into any of them, with the result that it ultimately proves unsatisfying. Nonetheless, it serves a valuable purpose by simply putting a spotlight on the growing problem, about which it doesn’t offer much in the way of optimism. “I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” one of the film’s commentators sadly observes.
Production company: So Much Film
Distributor: Dark Star Pictures
Director-screenwriter: Andrew Goldberg
Producers: Andrew Goldberg, Diana Robinson
Director of photography: Robert Hanna