100 years later, Protocols still fueling anti-Semitism

On Aug. 26, 1903, the reactionary St. Petersburg newspaper Znamya began publishing in serial form "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a pamphlet that purported to detail a secret plan for world domination concocted by an international Jewish conspiracy.

"Today I can assure you that we are only within a few strides of our goal," it reads. "There remains only a short distance and the cycle of the Symbolic Serpent that badge of our people will be complete. When this circle is locked, all the States of Europe will be enclosed in it, as it were, by unbreakable chains."

This week, on the 100th anniversary of its publication, the "Protocols" is no outdated historical document moldering in academic libraries. It continues to be widely disseminated and read, in bookstores and on the Internet, in anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi circles, and increasingly also in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

Copies were displayed at the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Last year, officials of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad's party gave out translated copies of Henry Ford's anti-Semitic book "The International Jew," inspired by and containing excerpts of the "Protocols," to delegates at the annual United Malays National Organization conference in Kuala Lumpur. A miniseries based in part on the Protocols was aired on Egyptian television last autumn and again this summer.

And earlier this month, student Susanna Klein accused U.C. Berkeley instructor Abbas Kadhim of touting the "Protocols" in his Arabic language class.

Kadhim and the majority of the class denied that claim, but Kadhim told the Bulletin that he believes the anti-Semitic forgery could be true or could be false. He has no official position.

"To be sure, there are many Arab writers and some important ones who are well aware that the 'Protocols' are a forgery," Menahem Milson, professor of Arabic language and literature at the Hebrew University, said at a conference on anti-Semitism earlier this year. "Nevertheless they continue to make use of them, because they argue it doesn't matter whether they are fact or fiction. Their predictions, so they say, have largely come true, which proves that even though the document you hold in your hands, the 'Protocols,' is in itself a fabricated document, the material contained in it is authentic."

The genesis of the "Protocols" predates its appearance in Znamya by several decades. Scholars believe the original source was a pamphlet written by French satirist Maurice Joly in 1864, entitled "Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu," an attack on Emperor Napoleon III that made no mention of the Jews. It was later plagiarized, reworked and translated by Pytor Ivanovich Rachkovsky, an agent of the Russian secret police in Paris, to discredit liberal voices in Russia that were sympathetic to the Jews, and as part of the propaganda campaign that accompanied the officially backed pogroms. After the 1917 revolution, Russian emigres brought the "Protocols" to Europe and elsewhere, where it fell on attentive ears, particularly in Germany, where 120,000 copies were sold in 1920. Hitler read the "Protocols" and praised it in "Mein Kampf."

"What many Jews may do unconsciously is here consciously exposed," Hitler wrote. "It is completely indifferent from what Jewish brain these disclosures originate; the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims…. Once this book has become the common property of a people, the Jewish menace may be considered as broken."

Over the years, there have been various courts and official bodies, including a Senate subcommittee, that have declared the "Protocols" to be a forgery. As late as 1993, a Russian court ruled the pamphlet an anti-Semitic forgery, after the anti-Semitic Pamyat organization sued a Jewish newspaper for libel when the paper said Pamyat was fostering anti-Jewish sentiment by publishing the book.

Yet regardless of how many times, and in what forum, the booklet has been discredited, the "Protocols" always finds fertile ground if not in Europe or America, then in Arab states, where it is often sold and even more often quoted. When then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' 1995 book, "The New Middle East," was distributed in Egypt, some copies were sold with an insert that read:

"When 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' was revealed 200 [sic] years ago and translated into many languages, including Arabic, the Zionist movement tried to deny the existence of a conspiracy and said the document was a forgery. The Zionists even tried to purchase all the copies of the book to prevent its distribution. Now Shimon Peres is providing eternal proof that the 'Protocols' was correct and what was said inside them was accurate. His book serves as a step in carrying out the dangerous plan."