February 07, 2006,
Protocols of Zion, a documentary currently making its way around the country (see the movie's website for the schedule), is filmmaker Marc Levin's attempt to inform the public of the growing dangers of anti-Semitism around the world, post-9/11. The film is well-intentioned, but falls far short of what it seeks to accomplish.
Levin was inspired with the idea for the documentary during a cab ride he took shortly after 9/11. In the course of a conversation about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the cabbie made the following remarkable statement: "Don't you know? No Jews were killed [on 9/11]." Levin probed, trying to find out where someone would get such an outlandish idea. As the discussion progressed, the driver referred to . . . the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The Protocols constitute one of the most historically significant hoaxes of all time: Their depiction of an alleged secret meeting of 19th-century Jews to plan world domination was very useful to Hitler. The document is both synonymous with anti-Semitism and a proven forgery, but it is still published and read worldwide. State-run Egyptian television has run a 41-part series illustrating the Protocols and Iran has followed suit, running a series on the Al-Alam TV station.
Why, Levin wants to know, are the Protocols still widely accepted? He takes us to the backwoods of West Virginia to meet the self-proclaimed skinhead who serves as president of the racist "National Alliance." He also visits a New Jersey maximum-security prison, where the Protocols are popular reading among the inmates; a Brooklyn mosque, where mourners blame the Jews for the 2004 assassination of Sheik Yassin, the leader of Hamas; and the streets of Paterson, N.J., where he talks with the publisher of The Arab Voice, a weekly paper that has published excerpts from the Protocols.
Levin captures part of the phenomenon of contemporary anti-Semitism, but not the most important part. A viewer of this film might come away with the impression that yes, anti-Semitism is on the rise but only among racial extremists, conspiracy theorists, and other obvious nuts. Yet the most significant anti-Semitism today actually manifests itself in much more polite and reputable circles such as, for instance, the United Nations and The Hague. (Just try looking for Israel on the U.N.'s maps.) Levin's politics we see him at an anti-Bush march, laughing it up when one of the protesters blasts "that scumbag Cheney" have handicapped his film. He has rendered himself incapable of addressing the most dangerous sources of anti-Semitism in the post 9/11 world.
Levin is right, of course, to take on anti-Semitism; but he runs the risk of being charged with na´vetÚ. He notes that while growing up he never experienced the anti-Semitism his parents and grandparents confronted but how could he have been unaware that Jews are still the objects of passionate hatred within large swaths of the Arab world? Was Levin really that sheltered, until his fateful cab ride?
Protocols of Zion started out with a lot of potential: It could have communicated a very important message. Unfortunately, it ended up as merely a free-for-all of fanatical opinions a showcase of the worst the human race has to offer.
Erin Carden is assistant to the editor at National Review.