Produced by Syria, not Mel Gibson!

By Joel C. Rosenberg

(WASHINGTON, D.C., February 25, 2004 -- Note: National Review Online has posted this article as a lead story today. Go to http://www.nationalreview.com .)

Israeli Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky went to Berlin in January to show German, French and other European officials excerpts of a vicious, anti-Semitic film.

With all the media attacks on Mel Gibson and his new film, you might think Sharansky showed excerpts of The Passion of the Christ. He did not.

Sharansky, for whom I briefly worked in 2000, wanted European officials to see a real anti-Semitic film. So he showed them excerpts of Al-Shatat ("The Diaspora"), a $5.1 million, 30-part "mini-series" produced by Syrian television. It was broadcast during Ramadan last year by Al-Mansar, Hezbollah's satellite television network. The film is "a Syrian TV series recording the criminal history of Zionism," according to a November 11, 2003 report in the Syria Times.

Episode Twenty of Al-Shatat -- which aired last November -- depicts a classic anti-Semitic blood libel. A Rabbi, played by an Arab actor, directs a member of his synagogue to help him:

1) kidnap the son of his Christian neighbor;
2) bring the boy to the synagogue;
3) slit the boy's throat;
4) drain the boy's blood into a basin;
5) use the blood to make Passover matzoh bread;
6) serve the matzoh to the members of the synagogue.

In Episode Six of the Syrian film, a group of rabbis and other Jews in a Romanian ghetto gather to torture and kill a man found guilty of marrying a non-Jewish woman. As the man screams in agony, the head rabbi instructs his fellow Jews: "You hold his nose shut. You, open his mouth with tongs. You pour lead into his mouth. You cut off his ears. You stab his body with a knife before the lead kills him. This is a sacred Talmudic court; if any of you fails in his mission I will try you just like this criminal." The men follow the Rabbi's orders.

Sharansky and I met in Washington on February 5, fresh from his trip to Berlin. He told me the European officials he met with initially hemmed and hawed over whether anti-Semitism is really on the rise, or posing a serious threat of any kind - that is, until he showed them video clips of the Syrian film. Then the debate stopped, and everyone in the room sat in stunned silence.

Sharansky then directed me to the Middle East Media Research Institute. There, I found English-language reports about the film, translated excerpts of key scenes, as well as several graphic video clips. Let me warn you. Some of the images are so brutal, so cruel, so evil you should not watch them anywhere near children. You may not want to watch them at all. But you should.

Anti-Semitism in Europe, for example, is not only on the rise, it's almost as bad as it was in the 1930s during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, says Ambassador Rockwell Schnabel, the U.S. envoy to the European Union.

Foreign Policy magazine, published by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, notes that ''not since Kristallnacht, the Nazi-led pogrom against German Jews in 1938, have so many European synagogues and Jewish schools been desecrated.''

A recent report in Le Soir of Brussels described a Belgium-Israel football game on January 28, 2004, at which Muslim fans cried out "Jews to the gas chamber!" "Death to Jews!" and "Strangle the Jews!" France's chief Rabbi warns Jewish men in France not to wear their yarmulkes in public to avoid being targets of anti-Jewish attacks.

The evidence is mounting. Most of the verbal and physical attacks on Jews worldwide are being driven by Islamic extremists, not by evangelicals or Catholics.

So what? Attacks against any group based on their ethnic identity and/or religious belief is repugnant to Americans and represents a threat to the foundations of Western Judeo-Christian society. Anti-Semitism is a particularly malignant social disease. Left unchecked -- as it was in the 1930s -- it metastasizes and triggers attacks on other groups until no one is safe.
Americans need to be aware of what Sharanksy calls the "new anti-Semitism," and specifically aware of this Syrian film. Anyone who makes his living as a writer or film-maker understands the power of a narrative to shape hearts and minds; thus it's important to know what a truly anti-Semitic film looks like. Because The Passion of the Christ is not one, and the Syrian-Hezbollah film most certainly is.

The Passion is brutal. It's graphic. As a story of hope and redemption, it's also one of the most moving and important films ever to come out of Hollywood, worthy of multiple Oscars. But it's not anti-Jewish, as Maia Morgenstern -- the Romanian actress who plays "Mary" in Gibson's film, and whose grandfather died in Auschwitz -- attests.

Those Jewish leaders attacking The Passion are thus making a serious strategic error. They're crying wolf, and hurting their own cause by pointing to anti-Semitism where it doesn't exist and thus distracting attention from real and rising evils where they do. Moreover, by attacking a film in which a Jewish person is portrayed as the Savior of all mankind, they're needlessly insulting and alienating millions of Bible-believing Christians, the very people most supportive of the right of all Jews -- and the Jewish state of Israel -- to exist in peace and security.

BLOOD LIBEL: Al-Shatat, Episode 20, Scene 1

Rabbi: "Well, we have a mission from the leadership, and we must carry it out quickly."

Young Jewish Man: "What is it?"

Rabbi: "Listen. We want the blood of a Christian child before Passover, for the matzos."

Rabbi: "Don't think too hard... Joseph, the son of Helen, your neighbor."

Young Jewish Man: "Joseph? Why Joseph specifically?"

Rabbi: "I'll explain it to you later. First do it."

Scene 2:

Rabbi: "Nathan is very late."

Young Jewish Man: "True. I'm beginning to worry."

Rabbi: "If anyone suspects anything, we'll abort the operation, and tell Nathan to say that he brought Joseph here just for a walk."

Nathan: "Hello."

Young Jewish Man: "Hello."

Young Jewish Man: "Did anyone see you?"

Nathan: "No."

Young Jewish Man: "Are you sure?"

Nathan: "Of course."

Rabbi: "Let's start immediately."

Joseph: "Nathan, I want to go home."

Nathan: "Of course, my dear. We'll go in a little bit."

Joseph: "Nathan, where are you taking me?"

Nathan: "Don't be afraid, Joseph. Don't be afraid."

Joseph: "Nathan, take me back!"

Nathan: "Don't be afraid, my dear, don't be afraid."

Joseph: "Nathan! Help me! Mama! Mama!"

(The men hold Joseph while his throat is slit and his blood is poured into a metal basin.)

Scene 3:

Jewish Man: "Hello."

Rabbi: "Hello."

Rabbi: "Good Passover."

Jewish Man: "Good Passover."

Rabbi: "Isn't it a mistake to have Passover without inviting the rabbi?"

Jewish Man: "Never mind, Rabbi. You know me. I'm not religious."

Rabbi: "This is why I am looking for you. I want to let you taste the holy Passover matzo. Then maybe you will come back to your religion."

Jewish Man: "No thanks. I don't want to."

Rabbi: "No, no. You must eat this, if not for my sake, for the sake of God."

Jewish Man: "Thank you."

Rabbi: "How is it? Tasty?"

Jewish Man: "Plain. Like all the matzos in the world."

Rabbi: "No, make no mistake. This one is tastier and holier because it was kneaded with pure blood, the blood of Joseph."

(English translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute)