Back in the picture

A new American documentary explores the roots of 21st century anti-Semitism.

By TOM TUGEND
January 7, 2007 09:11
2 minute read.
anti semitism swastika europe 298

anti semitism 224.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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The PBS documentary Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence will discomfit viewers of all stripes. Airing Monday on public television stations across the United States, the film will annoy those who believe that rising anti-Semitism is a myth fueled by Jewish paranoia and self-serving Jewish defense agencies. Equally upset will be those who argue that anti-Semitism, particularly in the Islamic world, is just using the same old stick to beat up on a blameless Israel. In addition, fervent believers in a global Jewish conspiracy, if any tune in, will be enraged at seeing their worldview demolished and ridiculed. Within one hour, the documentary, narrated by veteran CNN journalist Judy Woodruff, covers a lot of territory in a graphic and efficient manner. Viewers are given a capsule history of anti-Jewish hatred both in the Christian West and the Muslim East, accompanied throughout by horrifying cartoons across the centuries depicting the Jew as Christ killer, blood sucker, ravisher of virgins and plotter of world domination. Numerous experts weigh in on the Middle East conflict and its impact on the resurgence of anti-Semitism. On the whole, the arguments balance each other out, with perhaps a slight edge given to supporters of Israel, thanks to Woodruff's narration. Considerable airtime is given to New York University professor Tony Judt, often denounced for his harsh criticism of Israel. In this program, however, he limits himself mainly to exploring the growing influence of Muslim immigration on Europe. Former Israeli government minister Natan Sharansky and the American Jewish Committee's David Harris effectively lay out the Jewish role in the fight against anti-Semitism. A telling analysis of the corrupting effect of anti-Semitism on the Arab masses is given, surprisingly, by Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief for Al Hayat, an independent Arab daily published in London. Princeton historian Bernard Lewis draws a useful distinction between Christian and Muslim anti-Semitism over the centuries. In the Islamic world, the Jew, though not equal, was tolerated and did not carry the satanic aura painted in medieval Europe, says Lewis, who "credits" British and other Christian theologians with introducing modern anti-Semitism into the Arab world. Perhaps the most surprising emphasis in the film is on the deep and persistent impact of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in shaping the prejudices of European anti-Semites and the convictions of Arab leaders and masses. The Protocols, a Czarist forgery of the early 1900s, has proven particularly useful to Muslim presidents and clerics to rationalize how the "inferior" Jews of Israel could repeatedly outfight proud Arab nations. While the Arabs have never gotten over their defeat in the Six Day War, their humiliation is lessened if they can believe that they were beaten by the cosmic evil power portrayed in The Protocols. The one point of agreement among the experts is that anti-Semitism will not disappear, because "it serves so many purposes," notes Professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University. Woodruff adds that "Israel is used as a coat hanger" by Arab leaders, who can attach all their problems to it and divert their populations' attention from their own poverty and corrupt rulers. The PBS production was produced, written and directed by Andrew Goldberg, who recently released The Armenian Genocide, in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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