The czarist secret police created one of the greatest forgeries in history when they compiled The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion first published in 1903. A century later the conspiracy theory at the heart of The Protocols has been transformed and reinvigorated into a bizarre fabrication about Zionism.
The Protocols have been called the “Warrant for Genocide” of European Jews, by historian Norman Cohn. They played a pivotal role in modernising classical theological hatred of Jews. They galvanised disparate anti-Jewish ideas into a coherent worldview.
The Protocols purported to set out a secret plot by leaders of “international Jewry” to take control and rule the world. In short, it claimed that Jews aimed to influence, infiltrate and take control of governments, the media, and the banks; Jews were supposedly plotting to undermine and corrupt religion, morality, culture and society.
After the Holocaust, antisemitism and The Protocols went underground, at least in the West. Both persisted openly throughout areas of the Islamic world, especially among Arabs. At the heart of The Protocols is the conspiracy theory. This same mind set and worldview is also at the heart of much of the anti-Zionism we see today.
Despite repeated investigations and findings that The Protocols was a forgery (for example: The Times of London in 1921 provided conclusive proof that The Protocols was a “clumsy plagiarism” copied substantially from Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, a political satire by Maurice Joly published in 1864, and which made no mention of Jews; a South African court in 1934 declared The Protocols to be a forgery; a Swiss court in 1935 declared The Protocols “libellous,” “obvious forgeries” and “ridiculous nonsense”; and a U.S. Senate report in 1964 declared that The Protocols was “fabricated”), belief in The Protocols persisted.
The 1,700-year old idea that as “Christ-killers” the Jews were both intrinsically evil and absolutely powerful, to be not only willing, but able, to kill the Christian deity, was mirrored in The Protocols by also promoting the idea of the Jews as intrinsically evil and absolutely powerful, as to plot to take control of the world and ruthlessly exploit and enslave billions of people for their own benefit.
The Protocolisation of anti-Zionism occurs by the same mirroring. Now, it is “the Zionists” – namely, Israeli and diaspora Jews – who are portrayed as intrinsically evil and absolutely powerful in that they are seen as already controlling governments, the media and economies. In short, antisemites had found an acceptable way to refer to Jews so as to continue using and promoting old antisemitic ideas. Their use of the word “Zionist” as a code-word for “Jew” is most clearly seen in reference to events before the modern Zionist movement, for example, online comments to the effect that “Zionism murdered our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Just as The Protocols claimed that Jews sought to control the media, finance and governments, in order to control the world, so too today modern day antisemites, from both the right and the left, claim that “the Zionists” control the media, finance and governments, in order to control the world. Some examples, from Australian social media in 2016, include: “the Zionist controlled media,” “the Zionist banker criminals,” “Zionist puppet Government,” “they are Zionist & have infiltrated western governments including Australia,” “they get they slimy zionist hands in everything” and “These zionists are literally getting away with mass murder & totally controlling the world to reach their vile end game.”
Just as Jews were portrayed through the “Blood Libel” as blood-thirsty and evil in previous eras, so too today are Zionists portrayed the same, for example, “typical zionazi bloodsucking cockroach behaviour,” “true war mongers, the Zionists,” “Zionists don’t hesitate to kill and torture anyone” and “Zionists and their putrid supporters are a cancer on the world.”
The noble idea of Zionism, for a small, vulnerable and persecuted people to reconstitute a state in their national homeland, has been twisted and turned back against Jews. Even the very word “Zionism” has been transformed by antisemites from referring to the national self-determination movement of the Jewish people to meaning an evil international plot by Jews to control the world. The fact that Jews only want to control their own lives in their own tiny state is irrelevant to the antisemites.
Israel is not viewed as it is in reality – as the fulfilment of 2,000 year old Jewish dreams, a solution to millennia-old Jew-hatred, and a safe haven for Jews – nor as an open multicultural liberal democracy. Instead, the state of Israel is seen as the territorial base from which Jewry are plotting and operating to take control of the world – the engine room, the headquarters of the most evil and greatest plot in all of history.
In an unceremonial twist, but not as bizarre as it first appears, is that the idea about Zionism being the name of the Jewish plot to control the world is held concurrently by left-wing anti-Israel activists, right-wing nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Muslim extremists, and Islamofascists.
Although many anti-Zionists do not adhere to the conspiracy theory, much of their anti-Zionism sees Israel and Israeli Jews always in the worst light, ever ready to believe distortions and lies about Israeli behaviour and actions, never give Israel the benefit of the doubt, nor attempt to see the full context. They ignore, or excuse, the targeting and killing of Jews, and the continual threats to destroy Israel by its neighbours.
This form of anti-Zionism, perhaps the majority perspective within the anti-Israel camp, is one which sees Israel and Israeli Jews as not only bad but evil, and the Palestinian Arabs (and generally other Arabs as well) as innocent, almost child-like, and therefore good. To go from the perspective that Israel and Israeli Jews are devious and evil, it is only a few more steps to get to the position that Zionists are plotting to control the world. The latter position is increasingly expressed in articles, on social media, in placards and speeches at street rallies, and elsewhere, by anti-Israel activists. The insidious ideas and lies in The Protocols have made a monumental comeback.
Another aspect of the Protocolisation of anti-Zionism is seen in the attitude by anti-Zionists, of whatever political stripe, to the Jewish communal leadership bodies in the diaspora, often variously referred to as the Jewish or Zionist or Israeli lobby. Just about all anti-Zionists ascribe inordinate influence and power to Jewish communal leadership, accuse it of being disloyal to the country in which Jews live, and of being agents for Israel. When something goes against the interests or ideas of the anti-Israel campaign, then it must be because “the Zionists” are plotting, manipulating and giving orders.
A recent example was when the University of Sydney cancelled the venue booking arranged by students who wanted to host a talk by anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah on campus. The ensuing online petition garnered copious examples that people believe that this was the work of “the Zionists.” In fact, no Jewish organisation made any approach to the university. Examples of comments on the petition include: “well ho would have thought that sydney uni was shit scared of the jewish lobby”, “How much money from the Israeli lobby is sydney university getting?”, “in the thrall of the Zionists” and “buckled under zionist pressure.” The sentiment in these comments accuse Jewish communal bodies of intimidation, bribery, inducement and threats. Conversely, they deny agency even to a prestigious university; and ignore that there are other reasons, nothing to do with Jews or Israel, that determined the decision of the university.
The Protocolisation of anti-Zionism is so widespread among anti-Zionists that even those who do not vocalise such a view, or even subscribe to it, nevertheless do not discount or refute it either, but accept it as part of normal anti-Israel discourse, and part of the greater cause of delegitimising Israel’s right to exist and hence denying to the Jewish people alone the rights they support for others.
Just as Norman Cohn called The Protocols the “Warrant for Genocide” for its role in setting the groundwork for the Holocaust, so too the Protocolisation of anti-Zionism hold within it the seeds and the fertiliser to go to the same deep, dark, deadly pit. Only by exposing and countering the racist and genocidal worldview expounded in the Protocolisation of anti-Zionism can we avoid the road to that murderous pit.
Julie Nathan is the Research Officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and author of the ECAJ Antisemitism Report 2016.
For further examples of the Protocolisation of anti-Zionism, see pages 152-176 of the Antisemitism Report. All quotes in this article (apart from those referring to findings about The Protocols) are from the ECAJ Antisemitism Report 2016.
This article was originally published on the ABC Religion and Ethics website in Australia.