Do human stupidity and wickedness have any bounds?
After reading the comprehensive Wikipedia article about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I have to answer a resounding “no.”
The Protocols, from its its first publication in Russia in 1903 by Pavel Krushevan, an antisemitic activist, publisher, and politician whose newspaper articles instigated the notorious Kishinev Pogrom, to its employment by Henry Ford, the Nazis, and Hamas, has been one of the most effective tools for spreading Jew-hatred throughout the world.
Supposedly a transcript of secret meetings of Jewish conspirators, it is not clear who the authors were. Much of it was plagiarized from various sources, including large chunks of dialogue from an 1864 (non-antisemitic) work called Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, by Maurice Joly, with anti-Jewish material interpolated. The work was translated into numerous languages, including of course English, German, and Arabic. It appears in various versions on the internet, and is a best-seller in print as well. The Jerusalem Post reports that “Walmart, Book Depository, Thrift Books, Hudson Books, and Barnes & Noble are each selling dozens of versions,” including some with introductory material that suggests that it may be genuine.
Let me repeat: introductory material that suggests that it may be genuine. The bogus nature of this document was conclusively documented in the 1920s, but in some quarters it is still considered “controversial!”
The document strikes every antisemitic chord possible. It presents the Jews as arrogant, dishonest, corrupt, greedy, sneaky, murderous, promiscuous, manipulative, and cold. It lays out their alleged plans to destroy the family, the state, the church, and the national economy. It presents their conspiracy to control the minds and bodies of gentiles, to trick and force them into doing their bidding. It tells how they foment war and insurrection in order to achieve their goals. And of course it describes the great octopus of hidden Jewish control over all the important institutions in society that the stupid gentiles believe are independent.
It’s a perfect theory, because it accounts for everything bad that happens to those who believe it. Business reversal? The Jews cheated you! War? The Jews started it! Your spouse has an affair? The Jews introduced immorality into art, literature, and media! Are you conservative? The Jews are responsible for the destruction of traditional values everywhere, in government, business, and the family! Are you liberal? The Jews are the most privileged of the privileged, exploiting the oppressed classes! They are rebellious communists and rapacious capitalists, godless libertines and God’s purported chosen.
Almost every antisemitic act that hits the headlines echoes the Protocols. Robert Bowers murdered eleven old Jews in Pittsburgh because he believed that the Jews are responsible for uncontrolled non-white immigration into the US. Malik Faisal Akram took Jewish hostages in Texas because he believed that the Jews could pull strings to get a terrorist released from Federal prison. John Earnest killed a woman and injured several other people when he shot up a synagogue in Poway, California in 2019 because he thought Jews were executing a “meticulously planned genocide of the European race,” apparently by encouraging interracial relationships.
Recently, Jewish conspiracies have been “found” everywhere. In one of the most egregious violations of the principles of logic and evidence, cases of American police abusing black citizens are attributed to some American police officials participating in programs to study counter-terrorism in Israel. But even if significant race-based police mistreatment of minorities exists (in fact, it may not), it long predates such training programs, which in any event are related to intelligence gathering or SWAT training and not to techniques of apprehending suspects. And certainly there is no racial content! Nevertheless, the theory – pushed by a “Jewish” anti-Israel organization – became wildly popular. Because nothing “fits” like a Jewish conspiracy.
Such conspiracy theories have been popular since the Middle Ages (killing Jesus, poisoning wells, the blood libel, etc.). But the grand conspiracy to rule the world that is expressed so comprehensively in the Protocols may date to the late 19th century, and I think it’s fair to say that nothing did more to popularize it than the publication of the Protocols. While it may or may not have affected the thinking of Hitler and other Nazis – there is no evidence that Hitler believed that it was genuine – they certainly used it to great effect as a propaganda tool. And other antisemites continue to do so today. In 2002, the Protocols was made into a dramatic series called Horseman Without a Horse, aired on Egyptian TV. It was rerun in 2012, and was also shown on Lebanon’s Hezbollah-linked Al Manar channel.
There’s no doubt that a book or other work of artistic expression can have malign effects. But does it make sense to say that it can be inherently evil?
I think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an argument for that proposition.