The enduring fraud


The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been debunked countless times. Yet for the world’s anti-Semites, the book’s authenticity remains an article of faith.

The scene includes all the classic hallmarks of conspirators at work: In an underground location, a dozen men surround a candle-lit table and talk in hushed tones. The eldest speaks first. “We need to help Hitler annihilate the Jews,” he declares, “because this is the only way to drive the Jews from the countries that Hitler has not yet occupied to immigrate to the Promised Land.” The year is 1940. The location is somewhere in Palestine. The men are the Elders of Zion. And, none of it is true.

It is a clip from a 29-part Syrian-produced television miniseries, Al-Shatat (The Diaspora), based largely on the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion. According to the series, a secret global Jewish government seeks to control the world. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports that the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV service aired Al-Shatat in 2003.

Al-Shatat followed a 41-part Egyptian-produced television series, Knight Without a Horse, which also drew inspiration from the Protocols. The first episode aired in November 2002. Protests from the West included a condemnation of the series by the U.S. State Department.

These programs exemplify the endurance of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the most notorious and widely distributed anti-semitic publication of modern times. Today, the Protocols is available in dozens of languages and scores of countries. A typical Internet search for “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” yields several hundred thousand hits, of which about half are hate sites.

What is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? And, why is this book, which was proven a fraud as early as 1920, still serving to spread hatred of Jews to this day?

The Protocols contains 24 chapters, supposedly the record of a meeting of the Elders of Zion. The Elders describe their secret plans to manipulate the economy, control the media, destroy world religions and instigate wars, among other machinations. Ultimately, the Elders seek to enthrone their own king of the world, whose plans will remain unknown, even to his closest counselors.

The Protocols is entirely a work of fiction. The Elders of Zion never existed. Secret meetings of Jewish conspirators never happened. These so-called protocols are so turgid as to be almost unreadable.

So, what accounts for the sustained popularity of this book among those with anti-semitic agendas?

The Protocols functions so effectively as a propaganda tool in large part because of the insidious seductiveness of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories explain a complicated world in simple ways. “It’s the Jews,” has provided a simple, and often hateful, way to make sense of ever increasing complexity.

The Protocols was likely concocted by the Czarist secret police in Paris during the late 1890s. A version of the text appeared in a Russian newspaper in 1903, and it was used to incite pogroms, violent riots against Jews tacitly endorsed by the state. The Protocols remained confined to Russia until the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, when it was translated and published across Europe and elsewhere to warn of “Jewish Bolsheviks’” plot to spread their influence to the West. By the mid-1920s, one could read The Protocols in Russian, English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic and even Japanese.

In Dearborn, Mich., Henry Ford’s Independent newspaper issued a functional rewrite of the Protocols in 1920 under the title, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. The series blamed a host of modern “problems” — jazz music, liquor, gambling, government corruption — on “the international Jew.” The German translation of Ford’s series was well regarded by Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, later the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, among others.

The Protocols, too, was a convenient text for the Nazi Party, which published at least 23 editions between 1919 and 1939. It was used to indoctrinate students and Hitler Youth.

In April, 1924, Goebbels wrote in his diary: “I believe that The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion are a forgery. [However,] I believe in the intrinsic but not in the factual truth of The Protocols.”

Here lies great insight into how propaganda operates. By 1924, at least four investigations had exposed the Protocols as a plagiarism of two obscure 1860s texts — Maurice Joly’s Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu (which has nothing to do with Jews) and Hermann Goedsche’s Biarritz. Goebbels didn’t care. He knew The Protocols effectively made amorphous beliefs in a Jewish conspiracy seem plausible. It didn’t matter whether the book was a fraud, as long as it could be used to spread hate. And, it didn’t matter that the book had been proven a fraud; the antisemitic notion on which it depended could not be disproved.

The Protocols remains widely available today, but the new editions update the myth of a global Jewish conspiracy. A 2005 Mexican edition, for instance, suggests that Jews aided Hitler in murdering Europe’s Jews as a quid pro quo for founding the State of Israel. A 2004 Japanese edition warns against Japan’s takeover by Jews — despite the fact that only 1,000 of Japan’s 128 million residents are Jewish. A 2005 Syrian edition, endorsed by the Syrian Ministry of Information, blames the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Jewish conspiracy. In the Islamic world, where The Protocols is widely accepted as truth, countless Web sites, children’s cartoons, editorials, and television miniseries now disseminate the myth. Conspiracy theories such as The Protocols defy reason and, for many, become a form of faith. The stubborn power of the book requires that it continually be exposed as fraudulent propaganda, for, as we know too well, the danger of unchecked anti-Semitism already has been demonstrated many times in human history.


Daniel Greene. "The enduring fraud." National Post, (Canada) September 19, 2006.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.


Daniel Greene, PhD is the curator of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s special exhibition A Dangerous Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Information about the exhibition can be found here.

Versions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion from around the world. Starting at the top, book covers from Mexico, Japan, Syria, and Iran.

Copyright © 2006 National Post

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