Mind Your Elders

Clannish and cosmopolitan. Capitalist and communist.
Thanks to the ''Protocols,'' a Jew
can have it all.

by David Holzel

As I watched "Keeping the Faith," the romantic comedy in which a priest and a rabbi fall in love with sassy, toothy Jenna Elfman, I kept wondering what a Catholic reaction to this film might be.

The Jewish angles are obvious. But would a Roman Catholic find this ecumenical love triangle shallow and stereotypical, its Hollywood ending altogether
High Dudgeon:
The "Protocols" emails

Amazon.com sorta kinda clarifies where it stands.
too pat to be thought provoking? Or might this story of three childhood friends who collide and bond in adulthood be enough to instigate a discussion on religion in the 2000s and other big subjects?

There was a third option I hadn't considered. My friend Glenn had asked a Catholic friend of his, who offered this reaction to the movie: "Hitler killed thousands of Jews, maybe hundreds of thousands. But maybe he modeled his drive for racial purity on the Jews themselves, who had a sense of their own superiority and were motivated by their need for insularity."

Glenn did point out to his friend that Hitler murdered millions, not thousands, and that Jews are exclusive only to a point. Unlike Hitler's aryan race, anyone is welcome to become a Jew.

I'm not retelling this story to make any generalizations about Roman Catholics. I want Catholic readers to feel at ease about that. I'm registering surprise—not so much at this man's haziness about the facts and his failure to recognize that Roman Catholicism doesn't condone intermarriage either, as at his bizarre jump from randy Ben Stiller's distress that his gentile love interest could hurt his standing as a rabbi to the suggestion that Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves.

There's a blueprint for this pathology to blame the victim when the victim is the Jew. It's called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." And in his new study of the Protocols, "A Rumor About the Jews" (St. Martin's), Rutgers University Professor Stephen Eric Bronner traces both the gut urges and the intellectual (although irrational) currents that combine to form the pathology of Jew hatred. More on Professor Bronner's book in a moment.

But first, the comedy.

This spring was open season on the Protocols. In late March, a wave of messages began crashing into email boxes everywhere. Ground zero for this epistolary tsunami was Rabbi Eric A. Silver of Cheshire, Connecticut, who had discovered that Barnes and Noble was selling the Protocols under "Judaica" online and in their stores.

I received Rabbi Silver's shrill letter from several people, who were circulating it as parts of a quickly metastasizing chain. In high dudgeon, he demanded that B&N remove the Protocols from under the Judaica rubric, and charged that the bookseller was "misrepresenting [the Protocols] as 'Judaica' rather than the hate-literature it is." Rabbi Silver promised: "I will not patronize Barnes and Noble, its Internet site or its stores, until you do something to remedy this situation," and he asked each recipient of his email to "please forward this message to every Jew on your mailing list" and to B&N as well.

The following week, I received another email about the Protocols, this one from a totally different source —

Although most legitimate booksellers in America do not sell it, Amazon.com has at least two different versions of it available for sale. On the page for one of them there is a publisher's note declaring that the book is about a real Jewish plot, not a counterfeit. On that page there is a disclaimer from Amazon.com stating they don't support the views of the publisher or the book. On the page for the other book, there is no disclaimer. Constitutionally guaranteed free speech does not require private companies to sell extremist, hate literature. Disclaimer or not, I will not shop in a store that sells this book. If you agree please boycott Amazon.com and send them an email telling them why.

Not many days later, this arrived from Rabbi Silver:

Please—don't boycott Barnes and Noble. They don't deserve it. They are honest book merchants who go out of their way to provide the reading public with the best in books and service. At no time in any of this was there even a scintilla of malicious intent.

What had happened in the interim?

Tuesday March 28 10:00 PM EST

Booksellers disavow content of controversial book

Steven Musil, CNET News.com

Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com have agreed to post an Anti-Defamation League statement on their Web sites that calls a controversial book an anti-Semitic forgery and a tool of hate groups, the companies said today.

The online booksellers also said they agreed to post their own statements that say they don't endorse the views expressed in "Illuminati's Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion." The statement is a first for Amazon.com....

Not to be outdone by the ADL, the American Jewish Committee also made its pique known, in contacts to the booksellers, in op-eds and in an ad in the New York Times.

So what was going on here? Why the crying gevalt and marching out to boycott if there wasn't even a "scintilla of malicious intent"? Why so much hysteria and finger pointing at such a blurry bogeyman?

I went to the B&N website, searched for "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and came up with five matches. Most were scholarly critiques. The rabbi never mentioned which edition had so incensed him, just that it was there and we had better start worrying now because, as the writer of the Amazon.com boycott letter put it with such foggy fervor, the Protocols is partly responsible for countless violent antisemitic crimes and massacres.

What is it about the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" that causes such brou and so little haha? I mean, how many of us have read it? Opened a page for a peek, even? How many of those who were so up in arms, frantically emailing and proudly boycotting, actually know what the Protocols is...er...um...are?

So tell us already

Why the crying gevalt and marching out to boycott if there wasn't even a "scintilla of malicious intent"?

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