The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anti-Semitic pamphlet published in Russia at the end of the 19th century. It purports to be the minutes of meetings held secretly by Jewish wise men plotting to control the world. Exposed many times as a forgery, the Protocols has nevertheless continued to be translated, published, and distributed all over the world, from the United States to Japan, from the Arab world to Latin America. Its legacy is alive and well today in the Hamas Charter, among Holocaust deniers, and conspiracy theorists.
The Protocols consists of 24 "meetings" during which the chief of the Jewish wise men explains how to turn non-Jews into slaves and how to take hold of various global institutions. The text contains a critique of liberalism, an analysis of methods that can be used to gain control of the world, and a description of the universal State to come. The book does not give details about the identity of the wise men, the author of the "minutes," the time and place of the meetings, the intended audience, or the ways in which the manuscript was made public.
Different editions give different accounts of where the manuscript was "found." In some editions, it was discovered in the "chancellery of Zion," purportedly located in France. In others, it was obtained by "a woman who knew one of the top leaders of Free Masonry," another society typically associated with Jewish conspiracies. In other editions, the Protocols was presented by Theodore Herzl himself at the First Zionist Congress in 1897.
Writing the Protocols
The true origin is less colorful. At the end of the 19th century, as popular unrest was threatening the Czarist regime in Russia, the secret police of the Czar–known as the Okhrana (the forerunner to the KGB)–opened a branch in Paris with the hope of securing a Franco-Russian alliance. The head of this section, Pierre Ivanovitch Ratchkovsky, foiled bombing attempts that he had masterminded himself, had personal foes assassinated without scruples, wrote letters denouncing so-called revolutionaries, and published anonymous pamphlets that he would then use as proof of anti-Czarist activity that needed to be curbed. The Protocols gives a taste of his imagination. He was looking for a scapegoat in order to calm down Russian unrest against the Czar in the 1890s. The Jews came in handy, since anti-Semitism was widespread in Russia, and conspiracy theories involving Jews were blossoming at the time. Indeed, another paradigmatic claim of Jewish conspiracy occurred in France in 1894 with the Dreyfus Affair.