Exposed as a forgery by the Times of London 96 years ago, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has proven to be a remarkably resilient and influential antisemitic text. Outlining a diabolical Jewish plot to achieve global hegemony by means of subversion and manipulation, it validates the wild and unregulated fantasies of antisemites and conspiracy theorists.
First published in Russia in 1903, circulated by the Russian secret police to whip up antisemitic fervour and translated into numerous languages, it describes the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting during which Jewish leaders devised an elaborate scheme to take over the world.
Henry Ford, the American car manufacturer, fell under the influence of the Protocols. He printed excerpts in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, and distributed 500,000 copies of the book in the United States in the 1920s. The Nazis in Germany circulated it in schools to indoctrinate young Germans. To this day, it enjoys a substantial readership in a multiplicity of countries.
Amazon.com, probably the world’s biggest bookseller, sells it, but in a disclaimer, warns, “This book is one of the most infamous, and tragically influential, examples of racist propaganda ever written. It may be useful to some as a tool in the teaching of the history of antisemitism, but it’s unquestionably propaganda.”
Despite its notoriety as a blatant fabrication, its appeal seems bottomless, particularly in the Arab world, where the first edition was published in 1951 in Egypt. Due to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the antisemitic rhetoric found in a number of Islamic religious texts, the bacillus of antisemitism thrives in Arab lands, as a recent survey indicated.
To some Arabs, it hardly matters whether The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is true. What counts is that it validates their animus against Jews. Viewers of Jordan’s Prime TV channel were given a visceral taste of the Protocols recently when the host of one of its programs cited it as an authentic Jewish text.
Presenter Ayed Algam, identified as a movie director, opened his show by claiming that Jews, “an ostracized, abhorred, hard-hearted and treacherous people,” are disliked because of their “lying, fraud and deception” and their habit of “sowing strife.” He went on to ascribe the current troubles in the Arab world to Jewish trickery.
Apart from being a sheer ignoramus, Algam is a person who dislikes Jews. The wretched lies he disseminated feed into antisemitic malice in Jordan, one of only two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel. In all probability, Algam’s anti-Jewish outbursts also stiffened the resolve of Jordanians who oppose any form of normalization with Israel and call for the end of diplomatic relations between Jordan and Israel.
In a tightly-controlled nation like Jordan, it’s surely not beyond the capacity of the monarchy to rein in agitators like Algam, who erodes Jordan’s low-key strategic relationship with Israel by inciting popular opinion against it. King Abdullah II values Jordan’s ties with Israel, but he cannot afford to take them for granted if he tolerates subversives like Algam.
Algam’s revolting comments are a stark illustration of the durability, potency and popularity of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. More than a century after its appearance in Russia, it is still inciting hatred against Jews, especially in Muslim countries.