Protocols of Zion (documentary)

It is astounding to me that anti-Semitism exists at all, let alone that it flourishes. Perhaps I have been sheltered from it. Being a Christian and living in an area where Jews are not to be found in abundance, maybe I simply haven’t seen it. To be Jewish in New York — a volatile cauldron of seething anger, post-9/11 “we love each other” ideals notwithstanding — is apparently a very different thing, as the eye-opening documentary “Protocols of Zion” demonstrates.

“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was first published in Russia in 1905 as an attempt by the Tsar to blame all of his current problems on the Jews. The book — a complete work of fiction and a fraud — purports to be the minutes from a top-secret meeting of the Earth’s leading Jews, discussing their ongoing plan to take over the world.

The trouble with this book is that, as outrageous as its contents are, many people believed it, and continue to do so. A book claiming to be non-fiction is usually accepted as such by those who read it, unless “The Truth About (fill in the blank)” happens to be placed next to it on the bookstore shelf, or unless Oprah talks about it.

There has been an upswing in anti-Semitism since 9/11, too, including the insidious rumor that 4,000 Jews were warned not to go to work in the Twin Towers that day and thus had their lives spared — “proof” that the Jews were ultimately behind the plot. How can anyone believe that no Jews were killed in the 9/11 attacks when the memorial wall listing the victims is brimming with -steins -bergs and -baums? How can anyone think that Jews masterminded an attack that was carried out by Arabs, a group that hates the Jews? Here’s how: PEOPLE ARE STUPID.

Marc Levin, the Jewish documentarian who made “Protocols of Zion,” goes to the streets to get opinions from African-Americans, Arabs, Christian evangelicals and others. He wants to know why people hate Jews. One particularly ill-informed man, an African-American, observes that all of the major world leaders have been Jewish, including New York’s mayors. “Michael BLOOMBERG,” he says, for example. Levin points out Bloomberg’s predecessor, Rudy Guiliani. “JEW-liani!” comes the reply, as if Levin has just proved his point. Why, the word “Jew” was right there in his name!

I will grant you, this specimen is not the ideal spokesman for the anti-Semite movement, but his reasoning is not the dumbest; it is only the most obviously dumb. The more dangerous anti-Semitic ideas are the ones that seem to make sense, the ones that are eloquently spoken and backed up with things that sound like facts. And that pesky old book, that “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” continues to be a presence, recently serialized in a New Jersey-based Arab newspaper, nearly a century after it was first debunked as a fraud. The editor of the paper, interviewed in this film, even says he realizes it’s not true.

According to these conspiracy theorists, Jews run the world. Hence, if anyone rises to significant power, the anti-Semites do whatever straw-grasping and genealogical gerrymandering is necessary to prove that person is Jewish — whether the person knows it or not. How did Fox’s Rupert Murdoch become so powerful? Well, because he’s a Jew, of course! (Even though he isn’t.) It’s all part of their plan, you know, to control every media outlet and government position.

Again, I marvel that anyone can believe this crap. Levin marvels, too, but he marvels from a more personal position. His parents were Jews in New York in the 1930s, when anti-Semitism was more mainstream than it is today. And so his film has an intimate tone to it, the feel of a man looking for answers not just for his audience but for himself. Nothing is accomplished, really, except that the lid is removed from one of America’s most shameful underground movements.

B (1 hr., 30 min.; R, a few F-words, some violent images, racial slurs.)