The other day it came out that Reuters had published doctored photographs related to the recent Gaza Flotilla incident. The images were “cropped” in order to make the good guys look bad and the bad guys look better. A picture, so it is said, is worth a thousand words.
Helen Thomas used considerably less than a thousand words to bring her career careening to an ignominious end. But her words dripped with venom reminiscent of Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels. Later Thomas released a statement to the effect that her words didn’t represent her true feelings, but by then the damage was done. She tried too late to “crop” what she said.
What do we learn from these two seemingly unrelated yet actually similar stories? Well, we are reminded that the age-old hatred of the Jewish people is alive and well—and everywhere. Distortions, twisted images, word-pictures, and invective abound in a kind of Neo-Philistine effort to mold and mobilize the Goliath of world opinion against the ever-diminutive David.
Sadly, it’s nothing new.
While fires were still smoldering at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvanian pasture, malicious people conjured up an evil myth. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many in the Arab world believed that the vicious attack on America was not the work of Islamists, but rather was an Israeli-driven Mossad operation. This legend soon developed muscular legs and is now widely regarded by millions of Muslims as the truth.
And why not? For decades school children in Muslim nations (not to mention their parents at home) have been baptized in anti-Semitic narratives. The opinions in their world about Jews in general, and Israel in particular, are concrete—thoroughly mixed up and permanently set. Even more alarming is that fact that it seems that this distorted view of history, geo-politics, and reality itself is gaining a foothold here in the United States.
The most persistent and pernicious ideas that have been accepted by millions as factual truth flowed from the poisonous pen of a guy named Mathieu Golovinski. The spurious publication called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an Islamist must-read. The work tells a story that fits the pattern of long-standing prejudices. The words reinforce the visceral hatred Islamists have toward Jews.
Islamist anti-Semitism is not a new thing. It didn’t begin with the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, or the Six-Day War in 1967. It was around long before there was a Hitler—in fact, it grew up alongside Islam from the beginning. It’s an enmity that can be traced back to Muhammad and what he said, wrote, and did. And to those looking for ammunition to use against people they have been historically conditioned to hate, the often denounced and repeatedly refuted forgery is just what the evil doctor ordered.
In fairness, it is true that non-Muslims and non-Nazis have at times bought into the notions set forth by the Protocols—some even in the name of Christianity. This is sad. I touch on the short-term, but all-too-real relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and Christian Fundamentalism in the 1920s in my new book Apparent Danger. I have been criticized by some for pointing out this connection. Others suggest that that I have exaggerated the issue. But the facts bear it all out—unfortunately and uncomfortably.
In fact, it was relatively common in the build up to World War One and in its immediate aftermath to hear fundamentalist preachers talk about the Protocols as a proof-text. The relationship between what eventually became the religious right and a pro-Jewish, ultimately pro-Israel position developed against the backdrop of the emerging crisis in the 1930s, World War Two itself, and its conflict-laden aftermath. But eighty years ago, there were many prominent Americans (automobile magnate Henry Ford notable among them, also Father Charles Coughlin, the “radio priest,” even aviation hero Charles Lindbergh) who endorsed the spurious writings.
These days, however, it is quite rare to find groups advocating anti-Semitism in the name of Christianity, though it does exist on the lunatic fringe (Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan types, etc). For all practical purposes, the modern state of Israel has no greater friend in the United States than those who tend to interpret Biblical passages and promises literally. And interestingly, those who would love to paint the Tea Party Movement with a nativist, neo-Nazi broad brush, are frequently surprised to find that those attending the rallies are by and large enthusiastically pro-Israel.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion purports to be written evidence of a vast and secret Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. It’s presented as a factual and detailed description of a late-nineteenth century meeting to plot international Hebrew hegemony through manipulation and treachery. These ideas are at the root of the mother of all conspiracy theories for those who live in the bizarre world of alternative historical reality.
In fact, the publication is a forgery—probably the most sinister and infamous fake in literary history. And this was long before Reuters started doctoring photos and people like Helen Thomas tried to turn their own dung-filled words into shinola.
The year is 1898, and Nicholas II rules a Russia that’s beginning to experience the revolutionary stirrings of modernism. The Tsar is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and tends to be easily led by strong people around him. He tries to take incremental steps toward leading the nation away from its feudal past, but some in his court are alarmed. Thus, evil men began to seek a way to short-circuit these liberalizing influences.
If only they could convince the Tsar that the voices of change he’s listening to are motivated by something other than the best interests of Russia—but how? It was in this environment that the greatest of all anti-Semitic lies was born. A threatening conspiracy would be manufactured—one that would bring Nicholas to his senses—and the Jews to their knees.
Mathieu Golovinski was living in Parisian exile at the time. Though he was Russian, having been born in the Simbirsk region in 1865, he was forced to flee after repeated clashes with Russian authorities, usually having to do with his tendency to fabricate documents and evidence in legal matters. He was a master of spin, innuendo, and dirty tricks. He was also very skilled in the arts of forgery and plagiarism.
And he worked for the Okhrana—the Tsar’s secret police.
He was approached by representatives from the Tsar’s inner circle about creating a convincing anti-Jewish legend. They needed a narrative, one that would be seen as proof of a sinister plot behind the winds of change beginning to blow in Russia. Golovinski was commissioned to fabricate the evidence.
He came across an old book, written in 1864 by an anti-monarchist activist named Maurice Joly. It was entitled, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquie and was written as a thinly disguised attack on Napoleon III’s rule in France. The book was suppressed by the French government and the writer was imprisoned. He committed suicide in 1878.
A plan was hatched to borrow from this obscure book, changing some of its cosmetics and phrasing. It would be recast, using Joly’s fictional dialogue for a model, as the actual deliberations of a secret cabal of Jews bent on taking over the world. When the fake was finished, it was spirited back to St. Petersburg, and all that would be needed was a way to get it before the ruler of the realm.
Enter the other religious zealot in and around the court of the Tsar.
When most think of religious influences around Nicholas II, attention is usually given to Grigori Rasputin, the mad monk who haunted that scene beginning about 1905. But often overlooked, and certainly more ominous as far as long-term impact on the world is concerned, is the influence of his cultic contemporary, Sergei Alexandrovich Nilus. He was a writer on religious matters and a self-styled spiritual mystic.
He is also the man who first published Golovinski’s sinister forgery.
Initially placing the Protocols as a chapter in one of his books, Dr. Nilus saw to it that the potentate was fully briefed and convinced about the purported Jewish threat. And like Rasputin, he also had the ear of the ruler’s wife – so the Tsar, never a man to have his own firm opinions, fell prey to the lie. And in the days following his nation’s defeat at the hands of the Japanese at a loss of several hundred thousand men, not to mention overwhelming financial expense, circumstances were ripe for the rotten fruit of a compelling scapegoat story.
On January 9, 1905, the Tsar’s troops opened fire on protesters who peacefully marched near the palace in St. Petersburg. This would become known as Bloody Sunday. The Tsar and his inner circle saw in the Protocols the real reason for the unrest—it was a big Jewish plot to overthrow the monarchy.
So it began—the gargantuan conspiratorial lie that has reared its hideous head time and time again over the past one hundred years. Jewish plotters were blamed for The Great War (1914-1918). Then in its aftermath, when Germany was struggling to recover from defeat, the big lie was discovered by the greatest demagogue of the day, Adolf Hitler. By the time the future German dictator was sent to prison in 1923, he was well versed in the Protocols and drew significantly from the forgery as he wrote his own hate-filled and delusional tome, Mein Kampf.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion became, to men already filled with anti-Semitic ideas, proof positive of a sinister Jewish agenda. To those who believed the lie, the writings were sufficient evidence for the indictment, condemnation, and eventual execution of these conspiratorial people. The Protocols in many ways fueled the Holocaust.
Yet all along, reasonable people—scholars, journalists, and statesmen—have gone to great lengths to expose the fraudulent nature of the Protocols. Beginning with a lengthy analysis in the Times of London in 1921, to a celebrated trial in Switzerland in 1935, to a report by the United States Senate in 1964, good people have said again and again: “the book’s a fake.” Good people still do.
It’s the bad people who are the problem.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the biggest publishing hoax of the past one hundred years, is not going away. This is largely because Islamists are using it, with great effectiveness, to fan contemporary flames of hatred. In fact, it’s arguable that there are more copies of this lie-laden text extant than ever before. The forgery is used by politicians and clerics in the Muslim world to justify their distorted and destructive world-view.
Hamas, the group now ruling Gaza, owes Article 32 of its charter to these long-ago-discredited writings when it says things like: “Zionist scheming has no end…Their scheme has been laid out in The Protocols of Zion.” And it’s, of course, a perennial favorite with Holocaust deniers such as Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Islamist anti-Semitism is at the root of the so-called War on Terror. The bad guys use the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as their proof-text. It would make sense that if we really want to eradicate the symptom we must deal frankly with the cause. Islamism isn’t an aberration. It’s an ideology based on prejudices rooted in the distant past and lies that won’t seem to go away.
Islamism and Anti-Semitism go hand in hand. They feed off each other. They are the ideological usual suspects surrounding most of the bad things that happen in the world these days.