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PBS special explores the rise of anti-Semitism

It is difficult to say which is more disturbing to watch in the documentary "Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence": a very young Middle Eastern girl being taught to hate Jews or a Syrian professor embracing notorious anti-Jewish myth.

My vote goes to the image of the little girl being indoctrinated. She is the future, and the words placed in her mouth suggest anti-Semitism probably won't be abolished in several lifetimes.

The 60-minute film, which airs at 10 tonight on WNED-TV, is written, produced and directed by Andrew Goldberg, who won an Emmy Award for the documentary "A Yiddish World Remembered." His name may make some potential viewers question its impartiality as it explores the escalating violence against Jews and their institutions since 2000.

The power of the film's message about the dangers of spreading hate would be stronger if the religious and political background of the professors, theologians and journalists interviewed was better identified or understood.

The film may occasionally be as dry as a Middle Eastern desert, but it should appeal to viewers seeking to better understand the history of anti-Semitism and the Arab-Israeli conflict. His name isn't mentioned, but I imagine some viewers will think about Mel Gibson and "The Passion of the Christ" when the documentary addresses the roots of Christian anti-Semitism that was exported to the Muslim community.

Narrated and hosted by Judy Woodruff and filmed in Syria, Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, France and the United States, "The Resurgence" notes a poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than 97 percent of Egyptians and Jordanians hold "unfavorable opinions of Jews."

That could be partly because of a notorious document, "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," that long ago was exposed as a fake but continues to be taken seriously in the nations that want to believe that Jews have a plan to rule the world. The image of the little girl being indoctrinated is another explanation. The film also suggests that the prejudices of the mainstream media and of the leaders that look to deflect their political and economic failures by conveniently blaming Jews have had significant roles, too.

And then there's the power of mainstream Middle East entertainment docu-dramas, which often depict notorious anti-Jewish myth as fact. It is hard to believe that many people believe some of the things in films and series that make Jews appear to be Satanic, part of a Zionist conspiracy to control the world and behind the spreading of AIDS and the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/1 1.

The often unchallenged claims would be laughable -- if they weren't believed by so many Middle Easterners.

That is obvious in scary man-in-the-street interviews in which Middle Easterners buy the absurd claims, presumably because they've been taught to believe since they were young.

The impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the spread of anti-Semitism is also addressed. Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights and its military behavior are viewed as adding fuel to the fire, even if its military operation is deemed necessary to help the country survive.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 4


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