Mind Your Elders/2
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As everybody knows, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is a "notorious forgery."

That's how I've always heard it described, much as Howard Stern can't be mentioned without the adjective "shock jock," and Nixon never fails to be preceded by "that shmuck."

The Protocols purports to be the minutes of a congress of the representatives of the 12 Tribes of Israel, in which their leader, the Grand Rabbi, outlines a plan for world domination. The pamphlet apparently went into circulation in 1903, courtesy of the Russian secret police. It was and remains a popular item with Jew-haters—among them Russian pogrom-makers, Henry Ford, Hitler and various Arab regimes—who see in it a confirmation of their belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. (And you thought Ben Stiller's rabbi character was just working to get his contract renewed.)


That's pretty much all I knew until I read Stephen Eric Bronner's "A Rumor About the Jews." In addition to providing excerpts from the Protocols, Bronner offers a historical analysis of the development and transformation of anti-Semitism from Roman times through the Third Reich. He then tells the story of the forging of the Protocols, beginning with its roots in the generalized fear of the other that haunts Western history.

"The idea of a ubiquitous secret society, alien and evil, supernaturally powerful and sexually corrupt, intent upon dominating the world has its roots in the Roman Empire," he writes. "Pagans saw a conspiracy of this sort being perpetrated by Christians and, later, Christians would identify various cabals of heretics, Jews and witches."

Nowadays people have a lot of nostalgia for the supposed glories of pre-Soviet imperial Russia. Bronner reminds us that under the czars, anti-Semitism was official government policy and that modern impulses like liberal democracy, republicanism and freedom of conscience were crushed whenever they showed themselves. Not coincidentally, the Jews in the Protocols were trying to encourage these same liberal impulses—as a way of clearing the path to world domination.

Bronner believes the Protocols was forged in the 1890s as a distorted plagiarism of "A Dialogue in Hell," a satire critical of Napoleon III, written by Maurice Joly in 1864. It was a mystic and monk named Sergei Nilus who circulated the Protocols in the Russian court.

With its description of how the Jews were working behind the scenes to destabilize the ancient order of aristocracy, autocracy and Orthodox Christianity, the Protocols was a simple, convincing explanation—"a form of self-justification," as Bronner puts it—for the rising tide of opposition to the insular and reactionary czarist regime, which culminated in the Revolution of 1905. The dissemination of the Protocols also coincided with "the eruption of more than 100 pogroms between 1903 and 1906," Bronner writes, in which more than 5,000 Jews were murdered by Russian gangs known as the Black Hundreds.

Czar Nicholas II had his own copy of the Protocols. I imagine him reading it in bed, a pencil in one hand. His marginal comments read like a book jacket blurb: "What depth of thought!" he wrote. "How perfectly they have fulfilled their plan!" "This year of 1905 has truly been dominated by the Jewish Elders!"

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From the time of my college history courses, I wondered how the Jew could have been reviled as clannish and cosmopolitan, capitalist and communist, religiously obscurantist and atheist, evil and clownish. Now, more than 20 years later, I've found my answer in the Protocols.

The Protocols explains that everything is controlled by the Jews—who, at the turn of the last century, were largely a landless, powerless, poverty-stricken people—to further their ends.

Even this paradox has a purpose in the Protocols: "God has granted to us, His Chosen People, the gift of the dispersion," Protocol 11 reads, quoting the so-called Grand Rabbi, "and in this which appears in all eyes to be our weakness, has come forth all our strength, which has now brought us to the threshold of sovereignty over all the world."

"In our hands is the greatest power of the day—gold," the Grand Rabbi declares in Protocol 22. "In two days we can procure from our storehouses any quantity we may please."

With that kind of wealth, "we shall soon begin to establish huge monopolies ... upon which even large fortunes of the goyim will depend" (6). And with Europe converting to capitalism, thanks to the Jewish-controlled destruction of the aristocracy, "the people have fallen into the grips of merciless money-grinding scoundrels ... [So] we appear on the scene as alleged saviors of the worker — Socialists, Anarchists, Communists..." (3).

The public-opinion-shaping organ of the press is in Jewish hands, of course. I've been known to make an ironic reference or two to this canard, but I hadn't thought it through as completely as the forgers of the Protocols had. Controlling the press means controlling the newspapers of violently opposing factions: "aristocratic, republican, revolutionary." So readers of these papers, "in the vain belief that they are following the orders of their party, they will in fact follow the flag which we hang out for them ... I beg you to note that among those making attacks on us will also be organs established by us, but they will attack exclusively points that we have predetermined to alter. Not a single announcement will reach the public without our control." (Protocol 12)

So yes, even attacks on Jewish interests are orchestrated by the Jews. Even, you'll be relieved to know, anti-Semitism:

"Anti-Semitism is indispensable to us for the management of our lesser brethren." (9)

And it goes on. The masons are a front for the Jewish conspiracy. The outcome of elections for presidents are arranged in favor of candidates with a secret past, which makes them puppets for Jewish interests. (10) Jewish control of universities will assure that gentiles are inculcated with "all those principles which have so brilliantly broken up their order." (16) "Freedom of conscience has been declared everywhere, so that now only years divide us from the complete wrecking of that Christian religion." (17)

It all makes sense. If you're Timothy McVeigh. The Protocols is a projection of beliefs so toxic that their holders cannot bear to see them in them in themselves.

And that's where Bronner brings us up to date. It's 2000, not 1903 or 1941. McVeigh is the exception, not the rule. "Anti-Semitism has become like background noise, an incessant and irritating hum, that should not be mistaken for the real music," Bronner writes. It is "little more than a breathing corpse." And as such, the Protocols has power only among "cranks, fringe movements and outlaw states."

And, it seems, among the Jews. Like the Holocaust, the Protocols have taken on a black sanctity—to be used only in our hands and only for our purposes.

But in doing so, Jews are missing an important lesson: The growing zealotry among ultraorthodox and ultranationalist Jews—and their authoritarian reaction to the pluralism of liberal, democratic society— seems to be following the pattern of believers in the Protocols, Bronner says.

"The zealots fear not only a conspiracy among their Arab neighbors, which is in accord with the hatred they themselves project, but also a fundamental indifference to the plight of Jews by all gentile nations."

When Glenn's friend reacted to "Keeping the Faith," he thought he was drawing a line that leads from Jews to Hitler." He was mistaken. There is a line, but it leads from the paranoid vision described in the Protocols to Nazism and its triumph of the logic of the irrational.

The monk Sergei Nilus, who introduced the Protocols to the imperial Russian court, demonstrated why irrational truths remain true for some, even when proved false.

"When I first became acquainted with the contents of the manuscript," he said, "I was convinced that its terrible truth is witness of its true origin from the Zionist Men of Wisdom and that no other evidence of its origin would be needed."

Copyright 2000 by David Holzel

The Protocols
makes complete
sense. If you're
Timothy McVeigh.






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