PROTOCOLS OF ZION directed by Marc Levin. 93 minutes. Opens Friday (November 18). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It takes a lot to connect the President of Iran with Adolf Hitler, or white supremacists with hardcore black nationalists, but hating Jews will do it. Anti-Semitism may be the most complicated, persistent bigotry in the world, fuelled by the forged tract The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion. One version cropped up in post-9/11 myths. Not long after the World Trade Center fell, rumours arose that no Jews had died in the attacks. Apparently they were warned - by the Jewish world government, perhaps - to stay home that day.
Marc Levin heard this story from an Egyptian cab driver in New York, and it prompted him to make Protocols Of Zion. It's amazing that an Arab would reveal his conspiracy fantasies to a Jew in a New York taxi, but Levin is clearly a talker. His ability in Protocols to engage anybody in conversation - white power entrepreneurs, black prison philosophers, enraged Arab-American youths - lifts his film far above obvious condemnations of racism.
"You have hardcore haters and ideologues in all those communities," he says during a stop in Toronto. "Maybe the white power movement is a little different, in that most people in the there are truly committed. But among the African Americans and Arab Americans, anti-Semitism is certainly not a studied ideology, it's just what you hear on the street, what you grow up with. That's where the conversation is most stimulating."
Levin is a big, athletic guy, and he talks like a born storyteller.
He recalls screening Protocols for a group of New York University students, some of them very involved in the Palestinian movement."
"The first 15 minutes of conversation were very hostile," he recalls. "'It's all one-sided,' the students complained. 'Where are the Palestinian intellectuals, where's the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?' I said those are all legitimate points, but this is a personal film from a Jewish-American filmmaker. I don't pretend it's an objective journalistic inquiry, or even a history of the Palestinian-Israeli situation.
"After about 15 minutes, they started debating among themselves. It stopped coming at me and became a conversation asking, 'Does it really help our cause to be recycling the garbage of Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany as part of our program? We have a legitimate cause. Why are we marrying it to this bullshit?' That was fascinating to hear."
Levin actively seeks out people who disagree with him, and it gives his documentary the crackle of intellectual conflict, but there's one tough question even he can't answer. What, in the face of all rational evidence, makes someone believe that no Jews died in the 9/11 attacks? What's in it for them?
"That is the big question," he admits. He offers the idea that Elie Wiesel put forward at a UN conference on anti-Semitism. "He said that it's existential, that it comes from some kind of self-hate that becomes flipped and projected. That's scapegoating, and you find that in every culture," he says.
And that's why his film includes a sequence following Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ.
"You can't ignore that for 2,000 years Western culture said, 'You killed our God, and you will be punished and persecuted for the rest of your time on this earth because of it.' That runs pretty deep in the DNA of Western culture.
"So you have a history and you have a sense of powerlessness and you search for who's to blame. That," he concludes, "often makes Jews the default scapegoat."
PROTOCOLS OF ZION (Marc Levin) Rating: NNN
This documentary follows Marc Levin on a hunt for the roots of the new anti-Semitism. As garrulous as Michael Moore but far less maudlin, the New York filmmaker seeks out Arab-American youth, Midwest white supremacists and black prison philosophers, many of whom buy the myth that no Jews died in the World Trade Center attack. Levin traces today's bigotry to the persistence of The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, a fabricated book that some still take for truth. As serious as its subject is, Protocols provokes amazed head-shaking and even occasional laughs. Levin's willingness to talk to people who profess to hate him makes for fascinating viewing.