Online sellers post disclaimer with anti-Semitic book

NEW YORK — Two major online booksellers agreed this week to post disclaimers about a 19th-century forgery that claims there is an international Jewish conspiracy to rule the world.

But an online civil liberties group is questioning the moves by and regarding "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," calling them an infringement on free speech.

The moves come amid increasing controversy about how to deal with hate speech on the Internet.

Earlier this year, the Internet portal Yahoo! vowed to remove racist and anti-Semitic clubs that it is hosting online, and eBay banned the sale of hate material on its online auction site after pressure from groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The note on read: "Please note that does not endorse the views expressed in this book or those in the publisher's book description below."

"The book is considered a forgery," spokesman Gus Carlson was quoted as saying. "In a situation where there is concern over the legitimacy of the book, it is our job to make certain facts clear."

In addition to their own disclaimers, the two companies are posting an Anti-Defamation League statement, which calls the book "simply a plagiarized forgery" and "a major weapon in the arsenals of anti-Semites around the world."

Abraham Foxman, national director for the ADL, emphasized that his group just wants potential customers to know what the book really is.

"We are not in the business of banning books, no matter how reprehensible or indefensible they are," said

But Deborah Pierce, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the move "raises some flags."

She worries what would happen with situations that are not as clear, referring to a hypothetical case involving a how-to abortion book.

"This is the beginning of a slippery slope," she said.

The ADL has also submitted negative customer reviews that lists on its Web pages of dozens of other "objectionable" books.

Marc Stern, the co-director of the American Jewish Congress' legal department, said that what distinguishes this case from other works that many would find objectionable is that by purporting to be written by Jews, the "Protocols" is not honest about its origins.

"It really is a case of truth in advertising," he said.

Contrary to popular belief, the origins of the "Protocols" can be traced to France, not Russia. It was a collaborative effort of French intellectual anti-Semites and Russian anti-Semites within the czarist secret police.

But the "Protocols" was never published in France. Its debut actually came in Russia, around 1903. Its impact was immediate, as it reportedly triggered a pogrom against the Jews of Odessa.

Hitler cited it prominently in his "Mein Kampf" and made it a centerpiece of Nazi propaganda.

In recent decades, the "Protocols" spread beyond Europe and America, popping up in Japan, South America and the Arab world.

The case also points to another significant phenomenon: the spread of information through the Internet. Foxman said the controversy began after someone wrote on the World Wide Web that they had found a copy of the "Protocols" in the Judaica section of their local Barnes and Noble.

This problem was quickly resolved — the bookstore moved the "Protocols" to its world history section — but the online note spurred others to check how the book could be ordered online.

When people found it available, they bombarded the ADL with an "e-mail frenzy," Foxman said.

"What normally would be a complaint that you would deal with one on one now comes from 80 or 100 people," he said.