There's no arguing with some people. That's the thought I came away with after watching Protocols of Zion, Marc Levin's wide-ranging look at the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the wake of 9/11. Soon after the attack, Levin was informed by an Arab cab driver that there were no Jews in the World Trade Center that day; they'd been warned not to show up for work. Thus do vile rumors get passed along, acquiring credence by sheer repetition. But Levin, a Jew, decided not to take this latest libel against his people lying down. With a cameraman and a sound crew, he roamed the streets, waiting for anti-Semitism to rear its ugly head. He didn't have to wait long.
Did I say there's no arguing with some people? That's all there is with some people, and Levin goes toe-to-toe with them, giving as good as he gets. Black Muslims, white supremacists, Palestinian nationalists ' all are given the chance to make their cases against God's chosen people, and Exhibit A, as often as not, is The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a book that purportedly revealed Jewish leaders' plan to take over the world. That the book, written by Csar Nicholas II's secret police as a rationale for pogroms, was a complete forgery seems to have had little effect on its reception over the years. People believe what they want to believe.
That's the other thought I came away with after watching Levin's documentary. Ignorance and hatred have an affinity for each other, and some of the arguments Levin has to listen to would be laughable if they weren't so dangerous. Shaun Walker, head of a white-power organization called the National Alliance, finally loses his cool a bit when Levin suggests that Hitler might have instituted the Holocaust as a way of exterminating his own alleged Jewishness. "Hitler wasn't the suicidal type," Walker insists, seemingly having forgotten that Hitler, the suicidal type by definition, committed suicide. Moral of the story? People forget what they want to forget.
Levin's conversational partners generate so much heat, so little light, that you start to wonder whether it was worth going to all the trouble of tracking them down and talking to them. But it's strangely fascinating to hear what they have to say. And you're left with the sense that the world is ruled not by knowledge but by belief. If enough people believe in The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion ' or, for that matter, The Da Vinci Code ' it must be true. Alas, Levin himself puts too much faith in this wretched tome. He sees it as the spring from which all of today's anti-Semitism flows. But it's really just another symptom of a disease that has run rampant for thousands of years, with no sign of a cure.