Israeli documentarian Yoav Shamir's Checkpoint was a cinéma vérité-style exploration of the daily intractable confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian citizens at several border checkpoints. For Defamation, Shamir adopts a completely different filmmaking style. Defamation, which explores anti-Semitism, is a more personal "essay film," in the style of Michael Moore or Nick Broomfield. (The filmmaker has described it as "a personal journey.") Shamir dispenses with subjectivity, appearing on camera to ask pointed questions, and explaining his point-of-view in a wry voice-over. Claiming that, having lived in Israel all his life, he's never experienced anti-Semitism (though he points out he's read a lot about it in Israeli newspapers), Shamir travels to America to discover what the phenomenon is all about. He goes to New York, where he looks into alleged incidents of anti-Semitism that turn out to be relatively minor. He also meets Abe Foxman, who heads up the Anti-Defamation League.
After spending some time traveling the world with Foxman, the filmmaker worries that while the ADL's purported purpose is to fight discrimination and bigotry, in practice, the group appears to be using the fear of anti-Semitism to bolster uncritical support for the state of Israel. Shamir contrasts Foxman's access to power with the struggles of embattled, controversial academic Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, and, like Foxman, the son of Holocaust victims. The filmmaker also travels with a group of Israeli high school students on their traditional class trip to Auschwitz. Shamir suggests that there's a danger in exposing the youngsters to this traumatic experience of the most hateful anti-Semitism just before they enter their mandatory military service. Shamir was granted unfettered access to Foxman and the ADL, and the organization later issued a statement criticizing Shamir and the film.