Soon after 9-11, a chatty cabdriver informed Marc Levin that, thanks to an advance warning, no Jews died in the World Trade Center. The spread of this rumor sent the veteran filmmaker, best known for his 1998 quasi-doc Slam, back to the mother of all lies—the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Forged by Czar Nicholas II’s secret police around the turn of the 20th century, distributed by Henry Ford, paraphrased by Adolf Hitler (and more recently, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad), adapted for Egyptian TV, incorporated in the Hamas charter, sold by white supremacists, and cited by some black nationalists, The Protocols advance the notion that a Jewish cabal has conspired to run the world.
Leading with his chin, Levin uses himself as a character, like Michael Moore (or, he would surely prefer, Claude Lanzmann), and he further personalizes the documentary by having his elderly father tag along. Levin is fearless in challenging a wide assortment of street corner agitators, newspaper editors, Nazi sympathizers, and talk-radio callers. He’s also fearlessly crass—where is this “Eye-rack” he keeps mentioning?—but there’s no arguing with willful stupidity. Attempting to point out that the last mayor of New York was not a Jew, Levin sets himself up for the triumphant response, “Listen to what you just said: Jew-liani.” (And I guess, if men are from Mars and women Venus, Jews must be from Jew-piter.)
Levin usually tries to speak from the left, but the more he invokes the power of a multinational, capitalist global system, the more his anti-Semites hear the word Jew. The filmmaker is utterly dumbfounded when it is explained to him that as Rupert Murdoch is a media mogul, he is necessarily Jewish. In the end, Levin is reduced to showing the graves of those Jews who were killed at the WTC. Not that that will convince that cabdriver.
I’d have preferred Protocols of Zion to keep its focus rather than wandering over to The Passion of the Christ or a Tribeca seder, but this absorbing essay amply demonstrates that, as with any sort of racial-nationalist paranoia, anti-Semitism has very little to do with actual Jews and everything to do with imagined ones.