Filmmaker Marc Levin says Israeli power, Jewish influence in the world, even the origins of Judaism are legitimate topics for debate. He just doesn’t think conspiracy theories add to those arguments.
In his documentary “Protocols of Zion,” Levin explores two beliefs _ one old, one relatively new _ fueling anti-Semitism: Jews have a master plan known as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to rule the world, and no Jews died during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Levin wants to get to those people who subscribe to those theories so much that he welcomed Malik Zulu Shabazz, a black nationalist leader known for his anti-Semitic views, to a recent screening.
“My film is a journey into the face of, into the heart of, hate,” Levin said. “I want to show the film on the West Bank, I want the film shown in Indonesia … ”
Levin, whose 1998 dramatic film “Slam” won awards at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals, was inspired to pursue the project in the days after the 2001 attacks, when an Egyptian immigrant cabbie told him Jews had been warned and that it was all written in the “Protocols.”
Historians have long dismissed the document, which originated about 100 years ago, as a forgery concocted by Russian leaders. But throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world, many still believe it’s authentic.
Levin’s film, which opens Oct. 21, is at times deeply personal and surprising.
He talks to white supremacists, Palestinian Americans, Christian evangelicals, and various Jews including supporters of Israel who have no sympathy for Arabs. Levin’s father accompanies him for much of the foray.
In one scene, a handful of black people question and denounce Jewish power, and point out that the current mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, is a Jew. When Levin responds that the previous mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, wasn’t, one of the men rebuts by yelling, “Jew-liani! Jew-liani!”
Levin, who describes himself as “not religious but raised with Jewish heritage, culture and tradition,” offers up the claims about the “Protocols” authenticity while also debunking them.
The film also shows the many Jewish names among the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and, in one of its most powerful scenes, features an interview with the wife of one of those victims.
What seems to unite most of the anti-Jewish voices in the film is a sense of oppression and a need to blame someone for it.
“It’s just not fear and ignorance, obviously that’s where hate begins,” Levin said. “There are a lot of intelligent people, a lot of people who are confused and there are a lot of people who suspect they don’t know the real story, and on that I empathize with them.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center praised Levin for tackling a sensitive subject.
“Maybe somewhere along the line the hatred and verbal terrorism will be shaken,” said Cooper, who was interviewed in the documentary and participated in a panel discussion after the recent screening.
But the movie and subsequent confab failed to convince the most skeptical people in the audience.
“The film was informative, but I believe unbalanced,” said Shabazz, head of the New Black Panther Party. (Both he and his group are considered anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
He went on to say Jews owed blacks reparations for their role in the slave trade, that Israel was committing genocide against the Palestinians and that the Talmud was racist toward blacks.
Levin told Shabazz he wasn’t trying to resolve every dispute, but rather to get rid of the “garbage” of conspiracy theories.