Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The lie that would not die.

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Exposing the Farce

In May 1920, the Times of London wrote favorably about the Protocols, judging they were real because of their prophetic value: the real danger did not come from Germany, but from the Jews, and everything that was accomplished against them was "justified, necessary and urgent."

A year later, however, the Times withdrew its support for the pamphlet. The Times' correspondent in Constantinople, Philip Graves, discovered that the Protocols was a fabrication. The reporter revealed that the Protocols did not originate from a mysterious Jewish source and included sections plagiarized from a book written in 1864 by a Frenchman, Maurice Joly, attacking Napoleon III and his policies. The Protocols contain about 160 passages taken from Joly's Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu.

A closer look at the Protocols casts further doubt on its authenticity. There is a large part devoted to the situation in France at the end of the 19th century, the time and place where the Protocols were written. The original French text contains spelling errors, grammatical awkwardness, and a number of typical Russian-language structures that divulge the identity of the author.

Further confirmation of the Protocols' forged nature came in 1935 during a trial in Bern, Switzerland. The Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland sued a local pro-Nazi group for distributing copies of the anti-Semitic pamphlet. The trial became an opportunity to dissect the text and expose it as a hoax. Russian witnesses testified that the Protocols was a forgery created by Ratchkovsky for political purposes.

And yet the popularity and legacy of the Protocols continued to flourish .

Still in Circulation

The Nazis found great inspiration in the Protocols and used it to blame the Jews for Germany's defeat during World War I, the financial bankruptcy of the State, and the decline of the German race. Convinced that a Jewish conspiracy was in the works, Hitler mentioned the Protocols in Mein Kampf and in speeches, while Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels distributed the text widely.

Arabic edition of the Protocols

(Cairo, 1972)

Later in the century, the Protocols became a bestseller in the Muslim world. The Protocols help provide a denunciation of Zionism as the source of all problems in Arab lands, an excuse for the defeat of Arab armies, and a reason for their slow economic development Hamas, which now leads the Palestinian government, has made excerpts of the Protocols actual articles of its charter. According to Hamas' political agenda, calling for the destruction of Israel is justified as a means of survival necessary before Zionists take over the rest of the world. From Iraq to the Palestinian territories, from Egypt to Iran, from Turkey to Indonesia, there is not one Muslim country that has not published or distributed the Protocols, even in recent years.

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Brigitte Sion

Brigitte Sion is Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in New York University's Program in Religious Studies. A writer, editor, translator, and teacher, she earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University in May 2008.