The enduring fraudDANIEL GREENE
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
© 2006 National Post
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