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The peril in ignoring the Protocols.

THERE IS MUCH COMMOTION IN GERMANY THESE days about what to do about Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's hate-filled rantings from jail. The fear is that when the copyright expires in 2015, the possible mass publication of the book would introduce new generations to Hitler's odious views and traumatize the remaining survivors of the Holocaust.

A German historian, Horst Moeller, has called for a sort of pre-emptive measure. Moeller, director of the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, suggests that an annotated edition of the book be published before the copyright expires. He apparently believes that a version of the book with footnotes refuting Hitler's views would somehow deflate them.

Sadly, there is no evidence that such debunking works. Take the invidious book The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The enduring tract is labeled as the minutes of meetings of the so-called "Elders of Zion," a Jewish criminal conspiracy to dominate the world. It has been exposed as a libel, a fraud, a plagiarism. We can debunk it until we are blue in the face. Called the greatest hoax of the century, it survived for so long and generated so much hatred that it comes with a warning, a "special note" from Amazon.com, the world's most recognizable bookseller. "This book is one of the most infamous, and tragically influential, examples of racist propaganda ever written. It may be useful to some as a tool in the teaching of the history of anti-Semitism, but it's unquestionably propaganda," the bookseller says on its website. (1)

Not everyone who has sold the book has gone this far. In fact, in one of the most notable examples of the opposite approach, Wal-Mart's website reportedly carried the following:
 Some say the issue has already been settled conclusively--that it is
 clearly a forgery. Although there may be final evidence to this
 effect, we have not seen a clear and convincing version of it produced
 by those making the claim....
 If, however, The Protocols are genuine (which can never be proven
 conclusively), it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world
 affairs. (2)


For its part, Amazon.com, which classifies the book as "controversial knowledge" (apparently along with books on UFOs, demonic possession and "all manner of conspiracy theories"), also uses this as a marketing opportunity for books that expose the Protocols.

Among these are The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by the late graphic artist Will Eisner (W.W. Norton, 2005) and The Lie That Wouldn't Die: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, by Hadassa Ben-Itto (Vallentine Mitchell, 2005).

Eisner's book requires an enormous level of sophistication and appreciation of irony from its readers. Ben-Itto's work is a literary and historical gem. An authority on human rights, a former Israeli representative at the United Nations and a veteran Israeli judge, Ben-Itto retired from the judicial life to research and write an authoritative account of the life the Protocols.

The Lie That Wouldn't Die reads, in part, like a legal drama and a historical thriller, in which Ben-Itto explains "how the greatest hoax of the century survived for so long and generated so much hatred."

She also bravely acknowledges that there has been a fundamental Jewish ignorance, if not willful blindness, about the book. Jews know of the Protocols. We know that this notorious forgery is powerful propaganda used to disseminate dangerous myths that are accepted as truths and used to foment anti-Semitism. We know; others apparently do not. As Ben-Itto points out, she represented Israel at the U.N. General Assembly where people quoted the Protocols, but Ben-Itto did not use the opportunity to dispute them. She had not read them, because, as she notes, Jews did not read the Protocols. Instead, they are dismissed with contempt and unworthy of being dignified with a comment.

This was a mistake. Ben-Itto believes Jews ignore the Protocols at great risk. Everyone else seems to have access to them. When she began her quest for the truth of the Protocols, they already had been translated into nearly every language--except Hebrew.

Her book intersperses personal reflections about her quest with the stories of the people and the proceedings over a century and various continents that attempted to perpetuate and to destroy the lie. "I had set out to investigate the story behind a book, but as I did so, a procession of people started crowding into the story, forcing themselves upon me. These men and a surprising number of women have all played a part in the saga," she wrote. "The story of the book, I soon discovered, would become the story of the people who had inspired, created, distributed and exploited it, as well as those who had finally exposed it."

Ben-Itto also highlights the role of the book in a significant shift in the nature of anti-Semitism, from a religiously based phenomenon to a political one. In a trial in the early 1930s in Bern, Switzerland, Georges Brunschvig, a young lawyer, represented the Jewish community in a suit against the Nazi publishers of the Protocols. Among Brunschvig's tasks was how "to explain to the Swiss judge how, instead of traditional religious anti-Semitism that vilified the Jews as Christ-killers, there now existed a form of political anti-Semitism, based on the so-called Jewish conspiracy theory, which depicted the Jews as the greatest danger to world order."

Although Ben-Itto's work is not first to challenge the Protocols, her documentation and accounts of successful legal proceedings are credited with firmly establishing that the Protocols are a forgery and are used with insidious intent. The book also was published in Russia, where the media reported on the Protocols as deception.

On one hand, it is cause for celebration. Repeated often enough, vile accusations filter into the public consciousness, shape public opinion and sentiment, and often are mistaken for fact. They must be challenged. As a friendly Latin American diplomat reminded Ben-Itto at the U.N. decades ago: "You Jews should have learned that lesson. You ignored Hitler's Mein Kampf at your peril." To ignore the Protocols is dangerous.

We should not overstate the impact of challenging the Protocols, however. They are for sale. Despicable though the book is, banning it runs counter to free speech and smacks of Nazi book-burning.

As important as Ben-Itto's book is, it reminds us of another book that would not die. This is the book that explains it, but will not slay it. Facts and figures about forgeries and hoaxes will not diminish a widely held view of the Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. That is a sentiment, an attitude, that is not based on intellect or reason and that cannot be discredited by documentation and other evidence, much like Moeller's idea for annotating Mein Kampf, as if that would undercut its racist authority.

What Ben-Itto writes of a historical character in her book is remains true. We know "from bitter experience it was fruitless to confront the anti-Semites in the so-called marketplace of ideas. This was not about ideas, it was about prejudice."

NOTES

1 <http://www.amazon.com/Protocols-Meetings-Learned-Elders-Zion/dp/product-description/159364020X>, last accessed on August 5, 2007.

2. Dana Williams, Wal-Mart Rolls Back Anti-Semitic Book, Tolerance in the News <http://www.tolerance.org/news/article_tol.jsp?id=1070>; last accessed on August 5, 2007. Wal-Mart is quoted in the article as saying it had withdrawn the book from sale, "not because of protests from Jewish groups, but 'based on significant customer feedback' about the book."

MARILYN HENRY is author of Confronting the Perpetrators: A History of the Claims Conference (Vallentine Mitchell) and is currently working on a book on art looted from European Jews during World War II, tentatively titled Twice Stolen: Recovering Nazi-Looted Jewish Art. She is managing editor of JUDAISM: AJOURNAL OF JEWISH LIFE & THOUGHT and its book review editor.
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Title Annotation:Words on Words
Author:Henry, Marilyn
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Date:Sep 22, 2006
Words:1313
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