PBS documentary explores the ugliness of anti-Semitism

How bad is anti-Semitism today? A fetching 4-year-old Arab girl telling a TV interviewer that Jews are pigs and apes should offer a clue.

That is just one of many disturbing moments in “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” a new documentary set to air on KQED on Monday, Jan. 8.

Writer/director Andrew Goldberg assumes his audience knows little about the subject, and much of his one-hour film is a primer on Jew-hatred through the millennia.

And what a magical mystery tour it is. The European blood libel, in which Jews were slaughtered on the suspicion they baked matzah with the blood of Christian children. The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the Czarist forgery wielded to prove Jews planned to conquer the world. The rise of Nazism and the coming Holocaust.

All that serves as a prelude to a short history of Jews in the Arab world and the rise of anti-Semitism there with Jewish immigration to Palestine in the 20th century.

Goldberg draws on stock footage of Nazi rallies, the mufti of Jerusalem heiling Hitler, Jewish soldiers battling for Israeli independence. The historical review, while arguably necessary for uninformed viewers, slightly dumbs down the context.

However, Goldberg redeems his film in the second half, which focuses on the Middle East today and the global Arab media’s obsession with spreading hatred of Jews.

It is not a pretty picture.

The documentary makes use of striking footage from contemporary Arab television, man-on-the-street interviews and commentary from a broad spectrum of pundits, from Natan Sharansky to the Syrian foreign minister. All are surprisingly candid in discussing the alarming rise of Jew hatred in the Muslim world.

Thus we see some of the endless editorial cartoons depicting Jews as devils, and even more troubling, scenes from notorious Egyptian and Syrian made-for-TV movies. One, Egypt’s “Horseman Without a Horse,” stages the Elders of Zion compiling their nefarious Protocols. Even worse is a Syrian film depicting contemporary Jews butchering a Christian boy to make matzah.

It’s as sickening as a real snuff film.

Almost as sickening is the producer of the Egyptian film laughing off charges of anti-Semitism. Even Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief for Al Hayat newspaper, says the film “masquerades as a historical documentary, which in fact it is not.”

Then there are the clearly intelligent, well-educated Arab citizens surmising that the Jews knew about 9/11 in advance, and voicing a hatred of Israel that appears to be beyond the reach of reason.

Even a Ramallah-based Palestinian college professor admits that all the perceived abuses of the Israeli military in the West Bank do not justify the Jew hatred spread by the Arab media.

While assiduously neutral in its presentation, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century” is “biased” against those that spread Jew hatred, and is unavoidably slanted toward Jewish and Israeli victims of prejudice.

And though Goldberg tries to end his film on a positive note, it’s hard to feel upbeat at the end of the hour.

However, the film’s final credits prove telling. Filmmakers enjoyed the cooperation of such diverse entities as Cairo News TV, the Israel Press Office and Syria’s Ministry of Information.

If Middle East peacemakers could get the same cooperation, then maybe the world really would become a better place.

“Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence” airs 11 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8 on KQED channel 9, and will be repeated at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 9 on KQED Encore (digital channel 189).

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.