by: Nathan Williams, Deputy International Administration Director
“If ever a piece of writing could produce mass hatred, it is this one… This book is about lies and slander.”
— Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in reference to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
Anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred in history. Secular historians refer to the first blatant anti-Jewish sentiment being fostered in Alexandria, Egypt around 3 BC. But hostility towards Jewish people was already a common practice in the Hellenistic world and can be found much earlier in the writings of the Roman politician and lawyer Cicero (106–43 BC). For biblical historians the defamation of the Jews can be identified even earlier in time, as detailed in the book of Esther (c. 479–465 BC). While it is difficult to pinpoint its first historical occurrence, it is clear that this ancient hatred of anything Jewish has outlived many empires and is alive and well in the world today.
Prejudices are remarkably adaptive in the way they can be tailored to new fears and anxieties in a changing world. In this way the haters are never short of a scapegoat for the ever-changing ills of their society. Hatred directed toward a particular people group is most often rooted and sustained by stereotypes, which are passed on orally and in some cases in written text. Perhaps one of the more infamous written works of anti-Semitism is that of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Many scholars claim that this was the foundation on which the Holocaust against the Jewish people was built. By their very nature the Jewish people stand apart from the ordinary in their religious observance, rituals and dress. This perceived peculiarity has made the Jewish people a target of speculation, misunderstanding and vilifying slander, often resulting in their unending persecution.
One of the most virulent sources for anti-Semitic hatred was birthed from a publication known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The objective of this publication was to spread the hatred of Jewish people while intentionally blaming them for a variety of societal ills. Many may never have heard of this publication, but would have heard some of its wild allegations in the rhetoric of anti-Semites. Describing the gist of the publication, the Holocaust Encyclopedia says, “Allegedly minutes from meetings of Jewish leaders, the Protocols ‘describe’ the ‘secret plans’ of Jews to rule the world by manipulating the economy, controlling the media and fostering religious conflict.” Those who believe these outrageous lies claim the Protocols documents lay out a plot of world domination by the so-called “Elders of Zion.” The truth is that the invented evil plot and the imaginary elders are all entirely fake.
The Protocols have been convincingly proven as a complete work of fiction, mostly plagiarized from other works and twisted to implicate the Jewish people in a most sinister way. As early as 1921, the London Times did an exposé showing the Protocols were imitative of fictional ideas found in the French political satire Dialogue in Hell (1864) by Maurice Joly, which never even mentions the Jewish people. In 1935 two Nazi leaders were ordered by a Swiss court to pay a fine for distributing a German edition of the Protocols in Switzerland. The court order labeled the publication an obvious forgery, defamatory and ludicrous. The United States Senate even issued an official statement in 1964, affirming the fabricated origins of the Protocols and condemned those who used the publication as following the propaganda methodology of Hitler himself. Despite being one of the most famous and oft studied literary forgeries in modern memory, its vast influence in the circles of anti-Semites is still glaringly obvious. It has been used as propaganda fuel against the Jewish people everywhere from Tsarist Russia to Nazi Germany—and now also in the Muslim world.
Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Holocaust deniers all endorse and circulate the fabrications in their written works. The Islamic nations of the Middle East have been noted using the bogus claims made in the Protocols as proven facts in school textbooks, political speeches, editorials and even children’s cartoons. Some even went as far as producing television series where the main plot is filled with the propaganda lies of the Protocols. As recently as April 2018, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) released a video showing a Saudi Arabian scholar on a Saudi television program declaring that “the Jews” are implementing the contents of the Protocols by using Hollywood to target Muslims and to preoccupy the masses with arts, sports and theater. The Protocols even form the basis for the charter of the terrorist organization Hamas, which uses these plagiarized lies to vilify the Jewish people in the minds of Palestinians and rationalize their terror campaigns on innocent Israeli civilians.
Despite being published for the first time well over a hundred years ago, the lies contained in the Protocols about the Jewish people continue to circulate widely on the internet today. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 declares, there is nothing new under the sun. This certainly holds true for these ancient prejudices. The lies may be well cloaked and tantalizing to a conspiracy-fueled modern world, but underneath each allegation there is nothing new, just an unjustified ancient hatred of a peculiar people.
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