The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, also referred to as The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion, is an anti-Semitic hoax first published in Russia in 1903 claiming to document the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish dominion by “subverting the morals of Gentiles” and through the control of the press and the world’s economies.
It was translated into multiple languages and distributed internationally in the early part of the 20th century.
In the United States, The Protocols was circulated amid American governmental circles, specifically diplomatic and military, as part of the First Red Scare (1917-1920) and it would appear in the Public Ledger as a pair of serialized newspaper articles in 1919, but all references to Jews were replaced with references to Bolsheviki as an exposé by the journalist and subsequently by highly-respected Columbia University School of Journalism dean Carl W. Ackerman. A typescript copy is archived by the Hoover Institute.
Famed American industrialist Henry Ford funded the printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the United States in the 1920s. From 1920 to 1922, Ford also published a series of anti-Semitic articles titled “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem”, in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper he owned. In 1921, Ford cited evidence of a Jewish threat and said, “The only statement I care to make about The Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are 16 years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time.” In 1927, however, he was under court order to retract his publication and apologize; he complied, claiming his assistants had misled him. He remained, however, an admirer of Nazi Germany.
Adolf Hitler would publicize the text as if it were a valid document even though it was exposed as a fake in 1921. After the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, he ordered the text to be studied in German classrooms. Historian Norman Cohn suggested that Hitler used the Protocols as his primary justification for initiating the Holocaust.
It is still widely available today and continues to be presented by some as a genuine document despite widespread proof by scholars and historians that it is a hoax and blatant plagiarism. Source material for the deceptive claims includes Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, an 1864 political satire by Maurice Joly, and a chapter from Biarritz, an 1868 novel by the anti-Semitic German novelist Hermann Goedsche, which had been translated into Russian in 1872.
Political leaders have not referred to The Protocols since World War II; the exception to this is in the Middle East, where several Muslim regimes and cultural leaders throughout the end of the 20th century endorsed it as authentic, including Anwar Sadat of Egypt, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The 1988 charter of Hamas states that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion “embodies the plan of the Zionists.”
Recent endorsements in the 21st century have been made by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, and the Education Ministry of Saudi Arabia; televised dramatizations of The Protocols have appeared on Egyptian television and on Al-Manar (Hezbollah) television.
In 2003 the manuscript library at Alexandria, Egypt reportedly displayed an Arabic edition of The Protocols as an example of a Jewish holy book and in 2005 Iranian booksellers displayed copies of The Protocols and The International Jew at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Wal-Mart was criticized for selling The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on its website with a description that suggested it might be genuine. It was removed in September 2004 as “a business decision.”
In 2010, Italian philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco released his novel The Cemetery of Prague which contains a fictional account of the origin of The Protocols forgery.
It is most often found today on websites either as a downloadable document or for order as a paperback. Powerhouse bookseller Amazon continues to list a copy for sale on its popular service as well.
A review posted on the website in 2000, in which the company addressed some of the widespread, yet patently false, internet rumors that the company endorses the book and gives it a favorable rating the company states:
“Does Amazon.com sell this book? Of course we do, along with millions of other titles. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is classified under “controversial knowledge” in our store, along with books about UFOs, demonic possession, and all manner of conspiracy theories. You can also find books in other sections of Amazon.com’s online bookstore that analyze The Protocols‘ fraudulent origins and its tragic historical role in promoting anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution, including A Lie and a Libel: The History of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Should Amazon.com sell The Protocols and other controversial works? As a bookseller, Amazon.com strongly believes that providing open access to written speech, no matter how hateful or ugly, is one of the most important things we do. It’s a service that the United States Constitution protects, and one that follows a long tradition of booksellers serving as guardians of free expression in our society.
Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain books because we believe their message repugnant, and we would be rightly criticized if we did so. Therefore, we will continue to make this book and other controversial works available in the United States and everywhere else, except where they are prohibited by law.
Furthermore, because we strongly believe that the appropriate response to repugnant speech is not censorship, but more speech, we will continue to allow readers, authors, and publishers to express their views about the books and other products we offer on our Web site.”
Apple’s iTunes Bookstore has been the latest to face heated criticism for selling the book despite the publisher’s description clearly labeling it as a fraud:
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the one of the world’s most famous conspiracy theories. It is a statement of prejudice and paranoia, a fake historical record and a grand hoax all rolled into one.”
Earlier this month The Conference of European Rabbis demanded that Apple remove the book, which is being sold as a 99-cent eBook through iTunes.
They say that the book’s availability will make it easier to be used by “bigots and conspiracy theorists,” according to comments in a report by USA Today.
In a statement, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, conference president, said that “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion can and should be available for academics to study in its proper context, but to disseminate such hateful invective as a mobile app is dangerous and inexcusable,” but he maintains that the app is being sold in a context aimed at “propagating hatred.”
Apple has been through this before, when, in 2009, Hitler’s “Mein Kamph” made a brief appearance as an iTunes app before Apple quickly took it down, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The question remains, how far should Apple, Amazon, or other publishers go in restricting controversial material?
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html