Marc Levin refuses the ‘Protocols’

Modern history is full of conspiracy theories: Who killed JFK? Did we really land on the moon? Could Pearl Harbor have been avoided?

In the documentary “Protocols of Zion,” director Marc Levin sets out to discuss a slightly lesser known conspiracy theory regarding the rise in anti-Semitism after Sept. 11 and the subsequent rumor that no Jews died during the terrorist attacks because they were, in fact, the perpetrators.

The title, as well as the content of the movie, deals with “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a document distributed since the late 19th century that claims to be the minutes of a secret meeting in which the Jews set forth their plan to take over the world. Levin discusses how, despite its having been proved a forgery by “The London Times” in 1921, the document continued to be disseminated by newspapers, white supremacists, and even Henry Ford, who provided a copy with the purchase of a car.

Levin also engages in conversation with a variety of people to provide several different views of how rampant and dangerous anti-Semitism has become. He raises the issue of anti-Israel sentiments as mere covers for anti-Semitism when he sits with the publisher of an Arab-American newspaper and attends a memorial service for Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin.

What separates Levin’s film from other documentaries is that he does not try to impose his views on his subjects. Instead, Levin relies on those he interviews to raise the controversial, important and ridiculous aspects of anti-Semitism rather than forcing ideas into the viewer’s head.

For instance, when one New York City resident, claiming New York to be “Jew York,” explains that the city is run by Jews like Bloomberg and “Jewliani” (former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani), Levin simply listens and laughs at the statement. While debating with the leader of the National Alliance, a white supremacy group, as to whether Adolf Hitler was Jewish and sought to destroy the Jews and himself out of disgust for “The Protocols,” the NA leader states: “I don’t see him as suicidal in the slightest.” In response, Levin merely points out that Hitler had actually committed suicide.

However, from a filmmaking perspective, Levin doesn’t do such a terrific job of maintaining continuity. He does quote a different “Protocol” at the start of each new section to signal an introduction to a different topic, but he fails to use smooth transitions.

At one point, he jumps from a section dealing with five Israelis falsely accused of celebrating after the attacks on Sept. 11 to an interview with a self-proclaimed skinhead, a section that does not address Sept. 11 or the Jews’ involvement. He later moves from a discussion with prisoners about anti-Semitism and “The Protocols” to a debate about who killed Christ and the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ,” with no clear segue device.

In the same way, Levin does fulfill his mission to explain the mentality behind the Sept. 11 conspiracy by explaining how widespread and accepted anti-Semitism is, but he struggles to make the connection between this anti-Semitism and its relation to the recent terrorist attacks and the myth of Jewish involvement.

Given that he’s addressing an issue so clearly controversial, Levin does an excellent job of keeping his cool while dealing with a wide variety of strong-headed people. In one instance, he finds himself encircled by a group of young Arab-Americans shouting “God is great!” in Arabic while he attempts to continue his debate with one of the youngsters. Levin also manages to listen attentively and respond calmly while sitting in on a neo-Nazi radio talk show.

But perhaps the best example of his level-headedness is that Levin himself is Jewish but chooses not to respond to a caller who quotes Hitler’s promise to exterminate all of the Jews. Levin’s poise and restraint provides him with a credibility often nullified by filmmakers who attack and antagonize those they interview.

If it is not already evident, Levin does a fantastic job of documenting the opinions of fascinating people who relate to anti-Semitism in a variety of ways. Most significant is his choice to interview a local Jewish cantor who also works for a medical examiner’s office identifying bodies. After recounting the DNA confirmation of the death of an assistant cantor of his temple on Sept. 11, the examiner states that only people with “complete, blind hatred” could claim that Sept. 11 was a Jewish conspiracy or that no Jews died in the attack.

But Levin also works hard to show both sides of this story. In a particularly poignant juxtaposition, he talks with people directly affected by the nation of Israel whose hatred for Judaism is a product of Israeli oppression at the same time that he shows a clip of Kofi Annan denouncing anti-Semitism.

Levin succeeds in showing that this anti-Semitism still exists today, and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, people still believe that Jews were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Levin promises that as long as there is hatred, there will always be anti-Semitism.


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