Kenneth Jacobson

The Protocols Are Alive and Well

As antisemitic incidents surge around the world, it becomes clear that decades of minimal manifestations of Jew hatred were much more a pause than a transformation.

In particular, for years the shame of Auschwitz, the realization what centuries of conspiracy theories and fantasies about Jews had led to, operated as an inhibiting mechanism. Antisemitism may not have disappeared, but the willingness to act it out was affected by that shame.

That shame has surely eviscerated as survivors pass away, as the emotional impact of the Shoah weakens, as anti-Israel activity became more organized and more radical.

And so, we are seeing not only a huge surge in incidents following October 7, but a noticeable loss of shame about expressing classic antisemitism. While couching antisemitism through the prism of criticism of Israel is surely a powerful element of this surge, what is so stark is the blatant character of the assault on Jews: phrases like “Gas the Jews,” “Hitler was right,” “Resistance by any means necessary,” and “From the River to the Sea.”

What is particularly disturbing is the realization that the theme of the most infamous antisemitic document ever published, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, is alive and well in its modern context. The Protocols, created by the Russian secret police at the turn of the last century, claimed to be the discovery of secret plans by Jewish leaders around the world to dominate. All this at a time when Jews had no power, no state, no military, no political influence.

What was as significant as the document itself was the fact that millions of people everywhere believed the fraudulent document to be the real thing because they had been inculcated for centuries that indeed Jews were poisonous, all-powerful.

Now fast forward to today. Jews are no longer powerless with the state of Israel. But the depiction of Jewish power as the most negative force on earth reeks of the Protocols in modified form.

Yes, it is generally true that conspiracy theories about Jews today generally don’t rise to the level of the Protocols which embodies 23 chapters detailing the many ways in which the Jews are allegedly planning to take over the world. Still, the theme of poisonous Jewish overwhelming power has seen a significant revival.

Since the current surge of antisemitism following the barbaric Hamas attack of October 7, it is appropriate to begin with the world seen through the eyes of Hamas.

In its founding charter, Hamas cites the Protocols as proof of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.

Other examples abound.

The UN Human Rights Council issues annually three quarters of its condemnations toward the state of Israel, this while massive human rights violations take place all around the world. And Israel’s record is comparatively much better than most countries, let alone authoritarian regimes that make sport of condemning it

Following the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and the worst terrorist event since 9-11, significant elements blamed the Jews for their victimization based on Jewish misuse of power.

Explanations for American support of Israel following October 7 attribute it to overwhelming Jewish power.

Blame for the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process is simply put on Israel, as if the Palestinians have not rejected every opportunity to achieve a solution.

The murderer of 11 Jews at the Pittsburgh synagogue justified his brutality on the grounds that Jewish control of government led to the immigrant flow to the US.

DEI programs on many US university campuses and corporations omit any reference to Jews or antisemitism despite the Millenia-old history of prejudice against Jews because Jews are seen as powerful, as oppressors rather than oppressed, as white rather than multiracial, and  as part of the problem not the solution.

Criticism of Israeli policy and use of its power is not in itself illegitimate or antisemitism. But when it is completely out of proportion to reality, either by hyping it many times over or by ignoring far more egregious examples elsewhere, it becomes reminiscent of the scenario out of the Protocols. It becomes one where Jews are depicted as uniquely powerful and uniquely evil.

History has told us where such thinking can lead. It established the baseline from which the Nazis justified the slaughter of millions.

In today’s world, the rationalizations and equivocation about the massacre on October 7 point to the harm already caused and the danger going forward if these perspectives are allowed to flourish.

Never again must not be only a Jewish motto but one that civilization itself needs to heed. To do otherwise is to head down a path that we should never want to see again.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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