November 8, 2005
New documentary explores anti-Semitic ‘Protocols’
By Jon Kalish
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Did you know that Pepsi stands for Pay
Every Penny Support Israel? Or that Rupert Murdoch is Jewish?
Those are just two of the more outlandish declarations
uttered by political extremists and ordinary citizens in a new
documentary that charts the mother of all conspiracy theories,
"The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion."
"The Protocols" was a faked document that purported to
recount details of a late 19th century conference of Jews at
which they discussed plans to overthrow Christianity. The
fabrication appeared first in Russia in 1905 and quickly became
a classic defense of anti-Semitism.
It reaches its centennial this year with every sign of
gaining new believers, thanks to 21st century advances in
"At one point, I thought that maybe humor was the best way
to deal with it," says Marc Levin, Manhattan-based director of
the new film who has more than 25 documentaries and feature
films to his credit. "I figured maybe I should get 12 old
Jewish comedians, you know, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, to sit
around a table and have them riff off 'The Protocols."'
But Levin became unnerved when he learned that 'The
Protocols' had been dramatized for Egyptian television and
published by an Arab-American newspaper in New Jersey.
Just last year, U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart Inc. removed
'The Protocols' from its Web site, where it was offered for
sale with a blurb suggesting that the notorious tract might be
Determined, then, to make a serious documentary, the
filmmaker found that many Jews he spoke to about the project
warned him he would only foment more hate.
"Their initial reaction was, 'You should burn that book.
You should bury it. The last thing you want to do is a
documentary about it,"' Levin said.
EXPOSING A FRAUD
Instead, Levin went out of his way to expose many of the
anti-Semitic canards that are rooted in 'The Protocols' and
have found a receptive audience across a broad spectrum,
ranging from white supremacists to black nationalists.
The feature-length film, titled "Protocols of Zion," opened
last month in art-house theaters in New York and Los Angeles
and will be shown on cable television's HBO in the spring.
Film critics have praised the director for confronting
talk-radio callers, angry young Palestinian-Americans and
street-corner agitators, including an African-American in
Manhattan who asked, "Don't you know that 33 cents of every
bottle of Pepsi you buy go to Israel?"
The filmmaker traveled to the West Virginia compound of the
National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization whose leader, Shaun
Walker, declared that Australian-born media mogul Rupert
Murdoch is a Jew.
"What?" Levin responds in disbelief.
"We've got all the articles that they're publishing in
Australian newspapers going through his Jewish bloodline,"
Murdoch, of course, is not Jewish, and some observers
suggest that Levin is only helping to amplify such audacious
claims by giving voice to them in his movie.
Cultural historian and writer Bill Adler, who has spoken
out against anti-Semitism on the hip-hop scene, offered another
critique of Levin's film.
"I don't believe that anti-Semitism is this kind of raging
worldwide forest fire that the movie gives you the impression
it is," Adler said. "He's spoken to these fringe folks, and
they're going to say the goofy and hateful things they always
say, and a movie's worth of that stuff is going to warp your
perception of the reality of the size of anti-Semitism in the
world. It's not that bad."
The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate crimes in
the United States, reports that the incidence of anti-Semitic
activity -- both crimes reported to the police and noncriminal
acts reported to the ADL -- grew 17 percent from 2003 to
2004. But the ADL's most recent survey, in early 2005, found
that the percentage of people with anti-Semitic views has
African-American attitudes toward "The Protocols" is
something Levin says he finds especially troubling.
Levin interviewed Malik Zulu Shabazz, leader of the New
Black Panther Party, who accepted the filmmaker's invitation to
attend a screening of "Protocols of Zion" at HBO headquarters
in Manhattan in September.
Shabazz told a press conference in 2003 that Jews "got
their people out" of the World Trade Center before the attacks
of September 11, 2001. After the screening, Shabazz was asked
if Levin's film succeeded in debunking "The Protocols."
"I have no idea whether it's true or false," he replied. "I
have no idea."
Also in attendance was Eric Ture Muhammad, son of the late
civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael and executive director
of the Black African Holocaust Council. He, too, said he
remained unconvinced that "The Protocols" are a fraud.
Levin takes disputes over "The Protocols" seriously. He
sees it as a battle of belief rather than a debate of reason.
"There are some intelligent people who actually believe
this stuff because it's like faith. It's belief," Levin said.
"It's not about science or rationality or intellect. So, how do
you fight that? I say culture, journalism, filmmaking, art."