The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: the antisemitic text that keeps on giving

BACKGROUND

In 1897, in response to “the Jewish Question” (that is: what should be the fate of Europe’s Jews?) and violent antisemitic persecution, Jewish delegates from 17 countries around the world met in Basel, Switzerland to attend the First Zionist Congress. 

At the end of the Congress, the delegates concluded: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish People in Eretz Israel [The Land of Israel, then Ottoman Palestine] secured under public law.” 

In 1903, an antisemitic hoax, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” was published as a series in a Russian newspaper. Inspired by the publicity surrounding the First Zionist Congress, The Protocols purported to share the minutes of secret meetings between Jewish leaders. 

 

PUBLICATION

First published in part in the Russian newspaper Znamya in 1903, The Protocols was published in full as an appendix to “The Great in the Small: The Coming of the Anti-Christ and the Rule of Satan on Earth” by a writer named Sergei Nilus. 

Its original writer is unknown. However, in 1920, 1935, and 1964, the text was proven to be a plagiarized fabrication. 

Nevertheless, The Protocols is one of the most influential antisemitic texts in history and many believe its outlandish claims to this day. 

 

ANTISEMITIC TROPES

The Protocols codified and “legitimized” antisemitic tropes that had been around for millennia.

The text portrays Jews as power-hungry conspirators who are plotting to rule the world by controlling the economy and the media and inciting religious conflict. 

 

SPREAD

Though it was published in Russia, The Protocols spread around the globe quickly. 

In 1920, two British newspaper correspondents who’d lived in Russia first published The Protocols in English. The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper owned by Henry Ford, first published The Protocols in the United States in 1920. 

In 1921, the first Arabic language edition was published. This had a tremendous impact on the Jews of Palestine, who were violently targeted for supposedly attempting to “advance the international Jewish conspiracy.” 

 

IMPACT

Interestingly, even Adolf Hitler recognized that The Protocols was a forgery, though he said that it contained “inner truth.” Even so, that didn’t stop the Nazis from publishing it in 1933. Much of the antisemitic propaganda in Nazi Germany was highly influenced by the text, which inflamed antisemitic sentiment among the German population. 

The Protocols had a tremendous impact in the Middle East and North Africa, where it has been endorsed by various current and former leaders, including Muammar al-Gaddafi, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Anwar Sadat.

Hamas, the ruling group in the Gaza Strip, made reference to The Protocols in their official charter. The reference was only removed in 2017. 

 

TODAY

Despite being disproven over and over again, The Protocols continues to be extremely influential to this day. 

In the Middle East and North Africa, The Protocols is often used to “prove” that Zionism is a movement with sinister motives, and that Zionists’ ultimate goal is that of world domination. 

In recent decades, The Protocols has been sold far and wide, from UC Berkeley to the Iranian Embassy in Brazil, which attested in 1987 that the text “belongs to the history of the world.” 

Unsurprisingly, The Protocols is still popular among Holocaust deniers and right-wing nationalist movements from around the globe.