Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Protocols, Shmotocols

Terry Glavin draws our attention to Counterpunch's latest intellectual triumph:

Here is an excerpt:

I see our favourite expatriate Canadian economist is today giving out of himself in Counterpunch, ostensibly about Biblical archeology. But whatever the scholarly merits of the essay, Walberg once again just can't seem to control himself:

"The Zionists. . .have been plotting virtually since the creation of Israel to blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild a replica of Solomon's temple there. . . . the logical culmination of the Zionist project, eagerly fuelled by the official Israeli archaeological establishment. . . Then there's the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which sets out just such a programme in albeit an overtly grotesque form and is solemnly disowned by Zionists as a forgery, though a forgery of what is never made clear."

And so on and so forth.

I happen to have, in my files, a summary of the origins and usefulness of this fake document "The Protocols", for those who may need to know and perhaps for those who may want to know, too.

The Case of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" draws on popular anti-Semitic archetypes, which have been prevalent in European anti-Jewish imagination since the time of the Crusades.
The libel that Jews used Christian children's blood for their Passover Feast, poisoned wells, and spread the black plague were closely associated with mass-circulating tales of rabbinical conferences whose aim was to subjugate and exterminate the Christians.

The direct source for the "Protocols" was a composition by a French satirist, Maurice Joly, published in 1864. It was entitled "Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu", and attacked the political ambitions of Napoleon III using as metaphor a diabolical plot in hell. Though intended as a political satire, Joly's composition was soon plagiarized by a German anti-Semite named Herman Goedsche, who, writing under the pseudonym of Sir John Retcliffe, adapted the "Dialogues" into a mythical tale of Jewish conspiracy, as part of a series of novels entitled "Biarritz”, which appeared in 1868. In a chapter called "The Jewish Cemetery in Prague and the Council of Representatives of the Twelve Tribes of Israel", he tells of a secret centennial meeting of Jewish Rabbis taking place at midnight, in which the past one hundred years is reviewed and plans are made for the next century.

In 1872 Goedsche's plagiarized work [1]was translated into Russian. A consolidation of the "Council of Representatives" under the title "Rabbi's Speech" appeared in Russian in 1891 the two works were soon adopted by the secret Russian police and served as means of discrediting the reforms suggested by liberal sectors in Russian politics, which were sympathetic to the Jewish plight. During the Dreyfus case between 1893-1895, agents of the secret Russian police in Paris edited the earlier works of Joly and Goedsche into a new synthesis, which they called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". The new manuscript was brought to Russia and printed privately in 1897.

The "Protocols" were made public in 1905 by a mystic priest named Sergius Nilus, after the success of the first socialist revolution in establishing a Russian parliament and a constitution. A reactionary organization seeking to stir up hostility against the Jews, whom it blamed for the revolution, used the "Protocols" as part of the propaganda campaign, which accompanied the pogroms of 1905. Following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, many Russians fled to Western Europe, bringing with them the Nilus' version of the "Protocols" which served as the basis for many translations. In 1920, the "Protocols" appeared in English in London. In 1921, the London Times published a series of articles, which exposed the "Protocols" as a forgery and a plagiarism. Another book, documenting the history of the "Protocols" was published in the United States.

Such was the sway and the potency of this infamous document that it continued to circulate widely, and formed an important part of the Nazis' justification of genocide of the Jews. [2] An example of the way this myth manipulated and consolidated public opinion can be found in a conversation between two poorly dressed elderly women, overheard in the mid-1930’s in a cheap Vienna coffee house. The first woman announced that there would be another world war in five years, and that it would completely destroy Austria "and all the countries." Her companion was skeptical and asked her how she knew. The answer (which was apparently convincing) was as follows: Ninety-five years ago, the great Emperor Napoleon had called the leaders of the Jews of the World to a secret meeting at Schloss Schonbrunn in Vienna. At that meeting, the Jews laid out the history of the next hundred years and wrote it down in a secret book. They planned for one Great War in 1914; at the end of these hundred years, there was to be the greatest war yet. After that war, they would meet again and lay out the history of the next hundred years. [3]

While the story refers to historical events, they are utterly mixed-up. Napoleon did stay at Schonbrunn, though not in the 1830's (he died in 1821). He entered Schonbrunn for the first time in 1805. Napoleon did meet with the so-called Paris Sanhedrin, an assembly of rabbis of France (not of Jewish leaders) whom he instructed to establish legal principles for the administration of Jews in France. The Sanhedrin never met in Schonbrunn of course. The two historical facts, Napoleon's stay at Schonbrunn and his meeting with Sanhedrin, are linked in the woman's account with the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which were believed to be genuine. The result is an "historical account" which "explains" the First World War, the collapse of Imperial Austria in 1918, the Great Depression, the bloody civil uprisings in Austria of 1927 and 1934, catastrophes which the women had witnessed but could not possibly understand in terms of cause and effect. The story "explains" the past, the present, and the future by a simple mechanism (a world conspiracy by powerful, immensely wealthy Jews, the ultimate Others). The dimly remembered genuinely historical elements give it credibility. The story, flimsy and incredible as it seems, does manufacture and maintain a feeling of solidarity within the body politic by pointing to a traditional foe – the alien figure among the ethnically homogeneous. The myth of the “Protocols” helped people, especially in Germany and Austria, to "understand" social and political instability that was at once mysterious and threatening.[4]

As with the Shylock Myth, after WWII the “Protocols” ceased to be popular or credible in Europe and in the United States. However, such very good material could not be neglected for long. With the onslaught of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the “Protocols” became part of a state-sponsored anti-Semitism in the Arab world, where the Arab translation of the book appears to these days as authentic, without any introduction to inform the reader that it is a forgery. The “Protocols” also figures in the ideology of Islamic militants who mention it explicitly by name: "…The Zionist Plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" ("Brutukulat Hukaa Sayuun" in the Arabic original).[5]

Most recently, The “Protocols” was translated into Polish and published in Poland by Polish historian Janusz Tazbir as part of a study called: "Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Truth or Fraud?" A Czech publisher is planning to publish a Czech translation of the book, to the dismay and protestation of the Jewish community there.[6] Though the book concludes that the “Protocols” is a fraud and a forgery, it does contain the entire text, and the prevailing fear among Jewish critics is that readers of the book might be inclined to give as much credence to the tract itself as to the historian's assessment of its credibility.


[1] Plagiarism could be described as an extreme case of “domestication”, where the translator totally controls a source text to the extent that the source text no longer has a right to exist. It is like committing a textual murder.
[2] Larsson, Goran, FACT OR FRAUD? The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, AMI - Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and Research, Jerusalem, Israel, 1994, pp. 15-23
[3] Sebba, Gregor, Truth, Myth and Symbol, “Symbol and Myth in Modern Rationalistic Societies”, pp. 151-152
[4] Ibid, p. 152
[5] Mitbaq Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya - Filastin (Hamas). English Version: The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance movement, 18 August 1988, p. 45
[6] From: Internet page on Protocols: 1995 San Francisco Jewish Community Publications, Jewish Bulletin of Northern California


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