“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are perhaps the best proof that the Nazis’ “Big Lie” theory — tell something long enough and loud enough, and some people are sure to believe it is true.
A fabrication of the Russian Secret Police between 1897 and 1903, the documents described a putative Jewish plot to take over the world. Their speciousness repeatedly proven over the years, they continue to fuel anti-Semitism: in Nazi Germany, in communist Russia, in anti-Semitic Arab countries, in the writings of Western racists and so on.
And “The Protocols,” translated into scores of languages, continue to live on in popular culture — a 2005 documentary, a new novel (“The Prague Cemetery”) by Italy’s Umberto Eco, a new nonfiction book (“License to Murder”) by Alex Grobman, director of the America-Israel Friendship League. The Jewish Week spoke with Grobman this week about “The Protocols.”
Q: More than a century after “The Protocols” were written — and discredited as a fraud — why are we still talking and worrying about them?
A: The myth of an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world as advanced in “The Protocols” has been exposed by historians, journalists, politicians, police and religious leaders. Yet this has not stopped “The Protocols” from being part of a view held by many people. The potential danger of “The Protocols” in shaping public opinion is real and should not be underestimated. When Jews are portrayed as manipulators who seek power over other people’s lives, they come — only naturally — to be perceived as severe dire threats.
It is thus particularly disconcerting that this false and harmful perception of Jews is embraced even today by the leadership of the Arab-Muslim world, where “The Protocols” continues to be published in vast quantities, and cited in the writings of mainstream academics, who lend credibility and legitimacy to this falsehood and utter fallacy.
Who takes ‘The Protocols’ seriously today?
Aside from many in the Arab world, the belief that Jews have an inordinate amount of power in the world can also be found throughout the West as well. In September 2007, The Financial Times reported that “Currency Wars,” a Chinese bestseller, claimed “The Battle of Waterloo. The deaths of six U.S. presidents. The rise of Adolf Hitler. The deflation of the Japanese bubble economy, the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and even environmental destruction in the developing world,” which occurred over two centuries “have a single root cause: the control of money issuance through history by the Rothschild banking dynasty.”
Every time a friend returns from international theological conferences, he laments how pervasive the underlying belief in “The Protocols” is among leading theologians. Were you to confront them, they would be highly insulted, yet they accept the basic premise.
Jewish history is full of bogus accusations against Jews, like the blood libel. Why have “The Protocols” had such a lasting influence?
The notion of the Jew as a demonic character is still prevalent, allowing anti-Semites to use “The Protocols” to incite against Jews, particularly during times of political and social unrest. Conspiracy theories are attractive because they absolve the individual of any personal responsibility for failures, reverses and suffering. In this moral universe of “us” and “them,” the victim is not responsible at all for what has occurred. The conspirators are the ones who are culpable.
The fact that it was allegedly written by Jews makes the work more authentic. Reliance on contradiction— that to succeed Jews employ capitalism and communism, philo-Semitism and anti-Semitism, democracy and tyranny — made it possible for “The Protocols” to reach out to all: rich and poor, right and left, Christian and Muslim, American and Japanese.
Debating the advocates of “The Protocols” doesn’t work. Showing that “The Protocols” is a fraud doesn’t work. Banning the book — as some countries have tried — doesn't work. What works?
Certain portions of the population will never be convinced that “The Protocols” are a forgery or that Jews are not an evil force trying to control the world. Logic and reason have little or no place in their way of thinking.
The purpose of [Grobman’s new book] is inform those interested in historical truth why this canard and other lies against the Jewish people are so pervasive, and why they pose a danger not only to the Jewish people, but to all those who cherish a democratic way of life. If we do not respond to the canards, the assumption will be that we have no answers.
Do you think the authors of “The Protocols” foresaw how influential and long-lasting their product would be?
Russian anti-Semites working in Paris for the czarist secret police were instructed to fabricate a document identifying the Jews as the source of a plot to oust the Russian monarchy. Their objective was to fulfill their mission, not to worry about what its historical influence might be.