Twelve elderly Jews gather at the grave of an esteemed rabbi in Prague; they plot to consolidate their power and sow global unrest. Their words ultimately conjure up the Devil himself. The stuff of ghost stories? Perhaps, but this nefarious legend is source material for one of the most potent pieces of propaganda in the anti-Semitic arsenal, "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion."
Historians have revealed the book to be a forgery. But that has not silenced the myth of a Jewish cabal bent on world domination. Drawn from the fictitious tale above and political satire based on Macchiavelli’s speeches, "The Protocols" in the last 100 years has been "distributed like the Bible," said Nitzan Aviram. The Israeli filmmaker was in town this month to promote a six-part documentary he’s planning on the subject, to be titled "The Accursed Book." And not a moment too soon.
"The Protocols" have moved beyond the printed medium. The Jewish conspiracy it describes was a prominent theme in an Egyptian television, "Horseman Without a Horse," which aired nightly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Aviram notes another frightening development: Copies of "The Protocols" have been discovered in the backpacks of suicide bombers.
"We cannot allow it," Aviram told The Jewish Week. Israel, the U.S. State Department and American Jewish groups denounced the Egyptian broadcast as anti-Semitic "incitement." But Aviram called for more active protest. "Our actions cannot be in mere words," he said.
A 1979 graduate of New York University’s film school, Aviram previously explored the Holocaust in a 1998 film on Nazi doctors’ contribution to the Final Solution and one last year on Bulgaria’s efforts to save its Jewish population, among 13 films and programs for Israeli television.
"The Accursed Book" would clarify the true provenance of "The Protocols" through the history compiled by Israeli judge Hadassa Ben-Itto in her 1998 book, "The Lie That Wouldn’t Die." Aviram plans to follow the forgery’s trail from France, where a Russian police agent penned it in the late 1890s; to Switzerland, where a famous 1934-5 trial proved its falsehood; to other parts of Europe, Japan and the U.S., where it has been published and disseminated.
Aviram’s project would also demonstrate how regimes that adopted the rhetoric of "The Protocols" – namely, tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany – have met with disaster. That could serve as a warning to leaders in Muslim countries like Egypt, whose government funded and defended "Horseman," or Saudi Arabia, where an official publicly blamed "Zionists" for the 9-11 attacks on the U.S.
The persistence of "The Protocols" poses imminent danger, since it delegitimizes Jewish organizations and Israel, Aviram said. "If the State of Israel is not legitimate, if its purpose is to take over the world, then [people feel they] have to fight against it."
Aviram estimates he’ll need to raise $2 million for his 300-minute series, but seemed optimistic. In a meeting with Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate praised the project. "He said, ëLook, you’ll make it. You have to make it," Aviram recalled.