Documentary filmmaker Andrew Goldberg claims that it’s mere coincidence that his new documentary about anti-Semitism is “Viral” and that it being broadcast this month in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
The documentary has been in production for the last three years and PBS decided in November to schedule the broadcast now during Jewish American Heritage Month, Goldberg said. But coincidence or not, when we spoke with him recently, he was hopeful that the title and the broadcast time would catch peoples’ attention when so many are at home watching television.
AJT: What is the significance of the title of your new documentary, “Viral: Anti-Semitism In Four Mutations.”
Goldberg: It’s called “Viral” because anti-Semitism is spread just like a virus from person to person. It doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. These are ideas that have been spread, basically, by one person talking to another. Usually, in the old days, it was face to face. Now it’s through the internet.
What the internet does is it takes away any degree of social distancing. And so suddenly one person can infect hundreds or thousands with the push of a button. This anti-Semitism wouldn’t be growing if the ideas didn’t exist in these people’s minds to begin with. So, you know, you scratch the surface of a lot of people and the anti-Semitism is right there.
The program is divided into four parts or movements, as we call them. We tried to show how anti-Semitism has developed in four different countries from four different points of view. We examine anti-Semitism in Britain, where it’s a part of the political left; in the United States, where it’s used by the political right; in Hungary, where it’s used by the prime minister and his political party to stay in power; and in France, where it is exploited by political Islamists.
AJT: What did you discover about anti-Semitism in America?
Goldberg: America hasn’t historically been a place where there’s been severe anti-Semitism. Certainly, it hasn’t been anything compared to what it was in Europe. But now we’re seeing a very ugly kind of violence that really is foreign to this country with respect to Jews. Even in Manhattan, where we live, my wife said she wants to take the mezuzah off our door, you know, out of concern. And it’s really different feeling from when I grew up. You know, even my grandparents, who were here in the 1920s, while they acknowledge there was anti-Semitism, they did not view being Jewish as something that had to be hidden.
It would be hard to argue that the lack of government response to the anti-Semitism in this country is not making things worse. Particularly when we have such a polarized political system. I don’t think that our leaders have sought on either side of the aisle, by the way, to find any kind of unity.
AJT: What do you think about the “Never Again Education Act,” which allocates $10 million over the next five years for Holocaust education?
Goldberg: I think that things like education can be helpful, but social unrest can overpower any education or infrastructure in place to prevent problems that we have. For example, we have laws against violence against Jews. And yet you see an increase in violence against Jews. In the United States there is the idea that all people are created equal, yet you have people talking about Jews as lesser people at record levels now.
We do what we can as a people to try to stop these ideas from spreading and infecting. But I think that we’re somewhat limited with the tools that we have. I don’t think that any amount of education or any amount of training is going to stop someone from turning into a monster. I think that every person has the capability to be quite a bad actor and that we shouldn’t underestimate that. This may sound like I’m pessimistic and I am. But I believe we have to try to change things and that’s why I made the film.
“Viral: Anti-Semitism In Four Mutations” is being broadcast on Georgia Public Television and WGTV at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 26.
Repeat showing of Viral is scheduled for June 1 at 10 a.m. on WGTV. Also same day at 2 a.m. for people who set recorders.