Produced and directed by Allen Mondell and Cynthia Salzman Mondell
Youssouf Fofana has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the brutal 2006 kidnapping, torture, and murder of French citizen Ilan Halimi. Fofana’s accomplices received sentences ranging from six months to 18 years. Halimi was targeted because he was a Jew, though the French press still refuses to condemn the murder as anti-Semitism. As Halimi’s mother stated, “to deny the reasons for his torment was to kill him again.”
The Monster Among Us documents the verbal and physical assaults European Jews face. While many of the attacks are not life-threatening, some involve murder, as in the case of Ilan Halimi. The film interviews average European citizens – Jews and non-Jews from Paris to Munich – who speak about the rising anti-Semitism in their countries as well as the Islamization of Europe. We meet high school students, journalists, government spokesman, and concerned parents who share the same goal of raising awareness about the attacks against Europe’s Jewry in the new millennium.
Dramatic, sometimes violent, pro-Palestinian demonstrations have become commonplace in Western Europe. Damaged vehicles, trashed streets, graphic posters depicting dead children, and burning American and Israeli flags are standard fare. For European Jews, these scenes can be particularly frightening.
The Monster Among Us opens with an angry Paris protest against the war in Iraq. French Jew Noam Levy films as his friend, also Jewish, is surrounded and assaulted by the angry mob. With shouts of “Allah Ahkbar, you f***ing Jew you f***ing k**e, you’re going to die,” the attackers beat the friend to the ground, cutting his head open.
The film documents the increase of hostility towards Jews and Israel alike by Arab-Muslim immigrants into Europe from a variety of Middle Eastern countries since the start of the second Intifada in 2000. Turkish and Moroccan Muslims who immigrated to Paris, for example, sympathize and identify with the Palestinians. Footage of protesters in Paris raging against the “occupation of Palestine” underscores the fact that the conflagrative Mideast conflict has reached western Europe.
Jewish teenagers interviewed for the film describe how the short walk from their school gate to the bus stop is no longer safe. In Belgium, a high school student named Nathaniel Bensamoun described the brutal assault of one of his friends and classmates. In 2006, eight Muslims yelling “death to Jews” chased Nathaniel and two of his friends as they left school. As the teenagers ran to their bus, the attackers caught one of the boys and beat him so badly that he was hospitalized.
Jewish students of all ages also feel under siege in the classroom. In France, Valerie Hoffenberg recounted how her daughter’s friend was humiliated by her teacher in front of the class. The music teacher interrupted his class and said directly to the Jewish student, “Isn’t it enough for you Jews to kill the Palestinians in their country that you have to kill my ears in my country?”
Putting blame on all Jews for the conflict in Israel while cloaking anti-Semitic discord as criticism against Israel is commonplace in Europe. One unnamed French citizen commented to friends, “It used to be dirty Jew, now it is down with Israel, interrogate him like he is an Israeli.” Addressing the phenomenom of anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism, Melanie Phillips, a London-based journalist, quotes one of her friends: “Ever since the Holocaust we’ve been told that the Jews were untouchable, we couldn’t criticize them on the account of the suffering that they went through in the Holocaust, but we can now criticize them because look at how they are behaving in Israel.”
The film portrays anti-Semites and anti-Israel activists exploiting the Holocaust to vilify Jews and the Jewish state. Posters compare Jews to Nazis and contort the Star of David into a swastika. The producers posit that falsely accusing Jews of Nazi-like behavior may help ease the burden of Western guilt for the Holocaust. As Philips states, “Europe was compliant in the Holocaust; has never properly faced up to it and is looking for a way in which it can stop feeling so guilty.”
The documentary explores why hatred of Jews and Israel flourishes among Europe’s Arab immigrants. According to Ali Al-Ahmed of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington D.C., the hate indoctrination begins at school. Al-Ahmed has studied the Saudia Arabian curriculum since 2001 and found that the extremist Wahabi education that is introduced at a young age teaches not only fanatical Islamic teachings, but also hate for Jews and all infidels. The Saudis have exported their textbooks and teachings, including that Jews are vehicles of evil and responsible for all wars, throughout the Middle East and into the West. Al-Ahmed quotes from a Saudi textbook, “There is no catastrophe around the world unless the Jews had a hand in it.”
According to the film, this hate indoctrination has heavily influenced Europe’s Arab immigrant community. Former Belgium MP Claude Marinower explains the difficulty of educators attempting to teach history covering the period of 1939-1945 because students of “Arab origin don’t accept the story where Jews would be depicted, like the real victims that they were, within school.”
Beyond the challenges unique to students belonging to the Arab immigrant community, there are European educators who harbor a profound anti-Semitic disposition and refuse to teach their students about the Holocaust. In Hungary, many classes visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum on Holocaust Memorial Day. Some teachers, explained Barbara Janzso the museum’s program coordinator, wrote letters to Janzso demanding that the memorial day be eliminated as they don’t believe it should be funded by the government. Janzso has also organized a film club for teachers, where she helps them use film to teach students about the Holocaust. One response she received from a teacher in Hungary after she sent out an e-mail describing the club was, “Not everyone is a Jew here in Hungary. You have too much money and you should be ashamed that you steal so much.”
The film’s compelling message about the rise of anti-Semitism leaves the audience feeling hopeless for the future of the West. The raw footages of blatant anti-Semitism and the despair of Europe’s Jewry begs the question: is an all-out assault on European Jewry once again a real possibility, as the directors seem to suggest?
Whatever the answer, the August 2009 blood libel in a Swedish newspaper claiming that Israel’s army steals organs from dead Palestinians (search for “Aftonbladet” at camera.org) is not an optimistic sign, and is likely to fuel additional violence.