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The Enduring Conspiracy: Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Posted by Ethan Clow on March 1, 2011

One of the oldest and most enduring conspiracy theories is the fraudulent document known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

What are the Protocols? Where did they come from? Are they real? Who created them? These are the questions any good skeptic should be asking themselves. In reality, you’ve probably heard about the Protocols, perhaps in discussions of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust or conspiracy theories about Israel.

What you might not know is convoluted history of this fictitious document.

The Protocols were about 80 pages long and came in the form of a speech giving instructions and observations regarding a Jewish takeover of the world. These detailed plans required the destruction of all world powers, the placement of Jews in high places, the fomenting of class hatred, provoking wars, promotion of liberalism to undermine traditional values and loyalties.

When taken together, the Protocols are an elaborate manifesto with policies on foreign policy, security, armaments, monopolies, the press, tax policy and education. However, it’s clearly meant to be secret, the tone is brutally Machiavellian. It sounds like something out of an Orwellian dystopia.

Here are few snippets from the Protocols:

“It must be noted that men with bad instincts are more in number than the good, and therefore the best results in governing them are attained by violence and terrorization, and not by academic discussions.” – From Protocol 1

“Capital, if it is to co-operate untrammelled, must be free to establish a monopoly of industry and trade: this is already being put in execution by an unseen hand in all quarters of the world.” – From Protocol 5

“In countries known as progressive and enlightened we have created a senseless, filthy, abominable literature. For some time after our entrance to power we shall continue to encourage its existence in order to provide a telling relief by contrast to the speeches, party programme, which will be distributed from exalted quarters of ours.” – Protocol 14

(The full document can be read here along with several scholarly analyses.)

The Protocols emerged in Europe in the early 20th century while Europe was struggling to rebuild itself after the First World War. Shell-shocked, people were looking for someone to blame, and as usual, that meant “The Jews.”

So where did these Protocols supposedly come from? There is of course the real answer and the myth perpetuated by those of the extreme right wing.

The Protocols first appeared in Russia in 1903, published by the newspaper Znamaya. The myth states that they were recorded at the first Zionist Congress in Basal in 1897 and the Protocols themselves were spoken by Dr. Theodor Herzl (the father of zionism.) The Russian mystic Sergei Nilus included the Protocols as an appendix to his book, The Great in the Small: The Coming of the Anti-Christ and the Rule of Satan on Earth. By 1917, Nilus would go on to publish four editions of the Protocols in Russia. (Holocaust: A History, Deborah Dwork)

The edition that would go on to have the most effect was the German editor in 1919. This version was published by Ludwig Müller von Hausen. Likewise with the Russian version, he claimed that the Protocols were recorded at the Zionist Congress in August of 1897 in the Swiss city of Basal. During this conference, there were 24 secret sessions and at these sessions and there, Herzl gave the protocols to the attendees.

Afterwards, one of the transcribers was heading home and stopped in a Masonic Lodge (red flag) where an agent of the Russian Secret Police was, in exchange for a large sum of money, the Russian police officer was given one night to translate the documents. The translation was then taken back to Russia. (Voodoo Histories, David Aaronovitch)

Supposedly, that is where they were copied and discussed by the Russia, Sergei Nilus, who would later feature them in his book The Great in the Small in 1909. And would eventually find their way to von Hausen.

The Protocols were in high demand. They became common reading among the political and military leaders of Germany, perhaps because the content of the protocols seemed to cast blame for the first world war on the Jews, not the Germans.

It also had quite an effect on a 19 year old Heinrich Himmler who wrote [the protocols explained] “all and tells us against whom we must fight” in his diary.

But it wasn’t just Germany that the Protocols found acceptance, many reputable newspapers in France also praised the Protocols. As did Italian newspapers, and in Britain, the Protocols were published under the title The Jewish Peril It was received very favourable reviews and many newspapers and journals published the Protocols with other anti-Semitic tracts.

The Protocols soon spread to the US and found perhaps they’re biggest supporter, Henry Ford, founder  of Ford Motor Company, Mr. Ford found the Protocols shocking but enlightening.

Ford’s motives for embracing the Protocols are long and complicated. Ford was an extreme pacifist. He despised war and spoke vehemently against the United States entering the First World War. Like many in his day, Ford believed that war only profited banks and money lenders. As a private business man, he had no interest in such things. He also had no time for Bolshevism, which he also believed was behind the urging for war.

Ford was also an anti-Semitic and as a man of means, he decided to make his opinions known. He purchased a newspaper for the purpose of promoting the protocols and his anti-Semitism. The newspaper was called the Dearborn Independent. It soon had a readership of over 300,000. in 1920 and for 91 successive weeks, the Dearborn Independent started campaign on what it called “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” (Voodoo Histories, Aaronovitch)

It’s estimated Ford invested around 5 million personally into this project and it sold half a million in America. The legacy of this was felt worldwide, in fact Ford is the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf by Hitler, who was said to have “revered” Ford for his work.

So where did they come from? What’s the real truth?

The Protocols appear to be an example of what is called a “false document” meaning, it’s a work of fiction that has been made to appear to be non-fiction and this was done not as an expression of art, but rather with deceptive intentions.

It’s also an example of literary forgery.

In the 1930’s a German academic discovered some similarities between the Protocols and a work of fiction called “Biarritz” (English To Sedan ) and it was published in 1868 – 30 years before the First Congress of Zionism was even held.

In the book, written by a conservative German journalist, Hermann Goedsche, a group of Jewish leaders meet in the Jewish cemetery in Prague (the oldest in Europe) There are representatives from the 12 tribes of Israel plus the devil, who plan and discuss their objectives for world domination.

This chapter went on to be printed on its own several times in Russia in 1872 as a pamphlet with a forward saying that although it was fiction, it represented the truth. In 1881 it was published in France as The Rabbi’s Speech and consolidated all the evil plans for the 12 representatives into one speech from one Rabbi, and was supposedly a real speech given around the tomb of Grand Master Caleb, supposedly observed by an English diplomat named Sir John Readclif, which coincidently was the pen name of one Hermann Goedsche!

The connection between the Protocols and the Rabbi’s speech wasn’t enough to convince people that something misleading was happening. The structure and philosophical similarities between the two documents could have been coincidence.

However, a journalist from the London Times, who was the paper’s Constantinople correspondent decided to do some digging after the Times ran a very positive review of the Protocols.

Phillip Graves, the journalist in question, had a number of connections with Russian informants, one in particular who revealed a book written in French, from about the 1860’s or 1870’s. The book was discovered to be the work of a French lawyer named Maurice Joly.

Amazingly, the Protocols appeared to be a poorly plagiarized version of this book! Whole sections were paraphrased or in some cases, direct copy.

The book was Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu and it wasn’t about the Jews at all. It was a political criticism of the corrupt rule of Napoleon the 3rd.

If one goes on Wikipedia, you can read side by side paragraphs from Protocols and Dialogues in Hell and see how they are practically word for word.

According to historian Norman Cohn, a total of 160 passages of Protocols (two fifths of the whole book) is lifted from Joly.

For a full timeline, tracking the real history of the Protocols, see the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum site here.

Further research implies that the Protocols may have emerged from a Russian secret police officer named Piotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, who was also a known forger of newspaper articles. The Protocols could have been collected with bits from Joly and bits from Goedsche. Many historians believe the Protocols were meant to be Russian Monarchy propaganda, the Jews were depicted as revolutionaries and so this would draw support for keeping the Russian monarchy. In fact, the 1903 version of the protocols that appeared in Russia were for this exact purpose. (Holocaust, Dwork)

Czar Nicholas II even went on to praise the Russian secret police for their “discovery” of the Protocols and had them widely disseminated.  They also coincided with a Jewish pogrom that left thousands dead.

After much of this information came to light in the late 1920’s by journalists like Graves, support for the Protocols diminished. But then the Nazi’s came to power in 1933, and by then it was too late.

The Protocols stick around today as well. In fact many conspiracy theories that deal with world government, economics, world banks, liberalism , etc often when investigated and confronted, the evidence they put forward, often references back to the Protocols.

One of the guiding documents of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is the Covenant, a 20 page long document outlining some of the doctrines Hamas endorses. The Covenant actually references the Protocols as evidence for its conspiracy theories about Israel and the Jews.

It’s an unfortunate state of affairs that even after all this time, the Protocols still find a eager audience. Perhaps most widely believed in the middle east. Over the years there have been a number of declarations from political leaders all over the Islamic word essentially stating full belief in the Protocols and what they claim about the Jews.

No one would deny that there are numerous and well documented issues between Israel and its Islamic neighbours, but to lump pseudo-history like the Protocols in with those legitimate problems only causes more tension to an already dangerous situation.

So what are we to do? The Protocols has been one of the most enduring and widely believed conspiracy theories in history. Our goal, as good skeptics, should be to educate ourselves and our friends and neighbours. Sitting back and hoping someone will get over their belief in the Protocols is exactly what its creators would like to see us do. We must confront this pseudo-history the same way we confront UFOology, creationism or alternative medicine. Extraordinary claims, even ones found in history, still require extraordinary evidence.

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