An in-depth interview by Lenny Giteck, publisher and editor
Perhaps history’s most dangerous and destructive piece of antisemitic propaganda is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an approximately 150-page work of fiction that generations of Jew-haters have believed as true. Many still do.
Here is how the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum describes the book: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most notorious and widely distributed antisemitic publication of modern times. Its lies about Jews, which have been repeatedly discredited, continue to circulate today, especially on the Internet. The individuals and groups who have used The Protocols are all linked by a common purpose: to spread hated of Jews.”
The basic thesis of The Protocols is that there exists a secret international conspiracy by Jews to control the world. As noted above, The Protocols has been thoroughly investigated and unequivocally shown to be a fraud.
To learn more about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, we spoke with Mark Weitzman, co-author (with Steven L. Jacobs) of the book Dismantling the Big Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was published in 2003. In 2007, Weitzman was a winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Antisemitism, the Generic Hatred: Essays in Memory of Simon Wiesenthal.
Currently, Weitzman is Director of Government Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is the senior NGO member of the US delegation at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. And he serves as Vice-President of the Association of Holocaust Organizations.
Let’s begin with the origin of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The history of The Protocols is murky. Research is still going on, and some of the longstanding suppositions about its origin have been overturned in recent years.
Right now we can say that The Protocols may be traced as far back as 1903, when it appeared in serialized form in a Russian newspaper owned by a member of the Black Hundreds. That was a virulent antisemitic movement in Russia and Ukraine. Back then it was called The Protocols of the Sessions of the World Alliance of Freemasons and of the Sages of Zion — obviously, a pretty long and clumsy title.
The Protocols first appeared in full in 1905 as the final chapter of a book called The Great in the Small and Antichrist, which was written by a Russian mystic named Sergei Nilus. It did not appear in separate form until 1906, when it circulated as a pamphlet under the Russian czars.
Originally, it was claimed that The Protocols was related somehow to the First Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. That was where the conspiratorial gathering of Jews supposedly took place, although not under rabbinic leadership. There might have been a few rabbis, the story went, but it was mainly rich Jewish financial leaders.
The Protocols seems to have been influenced by a couple of other sources. One was a German novel titled Biarritz, which had a scene of Jews coming together in cemeteries to talk about world domination. A large chuck of The Protocols came almost directly, word for word in some cases, from an earlier French political satire that was aimed at Napoleon III in the mid-19th century. The satire was The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu by Maurice Joly.
Is there evidence that the czarist Russian government was directly behind The Protocols?
It was long thought that a member of the Russian secret police was involved in its creation as a way to shore up support for the czar. That’s one of the things that has been called into question by recent scholarship. In truth, it appears that The Protocols was not written by any individual so much as compiled… plagiarized from various sources.
When did The Protocols reach the West?
By 1919 The Protocols had been published in German, Swedish, Polish, Hungarian, French, and English editions. Italian was added to the list by 1921. Significantly, it didn’t come to the West until during or after the Russian Revolution of 1917, when many so-called White Russians were fleeing the Bolshevik revolution. They brought with them the notion that The Protocols was related to Bolshevism, and that Bolshevism was related to the Jews. In other words, the Jews were behind communism.
It was used to explain how the Russian empire was destroyed and taken over by Bolshevik groups with some very prominent Jewish names in leadership positions — Marx and Trotsky, for example. People were even accusing Lenin of being Jewish, which was patently false. Of course, the veracity of the claim about Lenin’s background didn’t matter much, since reality has never had anything to do with The Protocols.
Did the Russian, then the Soviet, then again the Russian government ever publicly disavow The Protocols or say it was a fabrication?
There is a story that when Czar Nicholas II was shown The Protocols in 1907 or so, he said something along these lines: “I’m an antisemite, but we don’t do good with such an evil forgery.” I’m paraphrasing, but in other words even he couldn’t get behind it.
Other than that, governments in Russia and the USSR never repudiated The Protocols. I’ll go even further. If you look at the communist period, Stalin was laying the groundwork for the so-called Doctors’ Plot right up to the time of his death. He wanted to liquidate a group of Jewish doctors who he believed were conspiring against the regime.
That was consistent with the notion in The Protocols of a secret cabal of Jews determined to undermine authentic state leadership. To my mind, it was a clear use of The Protocols by the communists. You also saw it in the ’60s and ’70s, when Soviet leaders were spreading similar ideas in their campaigns against Israel.
What about more recently?
In 2018, Vladimir Putin gave an interview in which he insinuated that maybe Russian Jews were behind any alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — not the Russian government, as had been widely reported. Putin didn’t explicitly say The Protocols is real, but anytime you start to hint that a group of Jews are behind undermining the structure of a legitimate government, you’re treading in Protocols territory.
What about today?
One expression of today’s impact of The Protocols is the demonizing of George Soros. I don’t agree with Soros on a lot of things, but when you start throwing out unsubstantiated references to rich Jews secretly trying to undermine traditional Western — i.e., Christian — society… again, you’re essentially in Protocols territory. That goes for Soros or the Rothschilds… or whomever.
Do any of the individual Protocols in particular stick out in your mind?
One that I love — if I can say that — is number nine, because it clearly demonstrates just how ridiculous the whole thing is. This was at a time when subway tunnels were first being built under some of the major capitals of Europe. The Protocols claimed that since these projects were financed by rich Jews, they were going to take the opportunity to load the tunnels with dynamite and threaten the governments aboveground. Supposedly, if Jews were not given secret control behind the scenes, they would blow up and destroy the cities by blowing up the subterranean tunnels.
Now, that was written a century ago. We all know what has happened on the continent of Europe since then: wars, bombings, explosions, demolitions — but none of that can be traced to dynamite-loaded tunnels blown up by Jews. Yet there still are people who believe and propagate The Protocols today.
The alleged evil Jewish plans always involved secrecy, yes?
That’s part of the malignant genius of The Protocols. It didn’t claim Jews were going to overtly take over the world, but that they were going to use hidden levers to manipulate the countries’ leaders. The covert and vague nature of the “plot” made it even more dangerous and frightening in people’s minds.
That’s why democracy and liberalism were viewed as Jewish tools, because they enabled the populace — secretly manipulated by the Jews — to replace a leader they didn’t like with one they did like. The Protocols is very much an attack on liberal democracy. But the compilers of The Protocols believed that autocracy — rule by kings and despots — was beyond Jewish control.
How would you describe the language in The Protocols?
The difficult thing to understand about the popularity of The Protocols is that it’s absolutely tortuous to read and understand. That is one reason most people who believe in The Protocols, who comment on it or cite it, have probably never even sat down to read it.
What makes you so sure The Protocols is not, in fact, a Jewish work?
For one thing, it is really atypical of Jewish literature. There are almost no citations from the Torah, for example. When it is mentioned, the biblical quotations are in Latin. Jews would not quote the Torah in Latin.
This is a quotation from Joly’s book: “Now I understand the figure of the god Vishnu. You have a hundred arms like the Indian idol, and each of your fingers touches a spring.”
Here’s one example that demonstrates the non-Jewish sources of The Protocols. This is from Protocols 12 and 17: “Our government will resemble the Hindu god Vishnu. Each of our hundred hands will hold one spring of the social machinery of the State.”
Not only are they virtually identical, but when you think about it, Vishnu was not exactly a character in Jewish thought, writings, literature, or history. Except for maybe a couple of Jewish scholars writing about Indian religion, Vishnu is not a Jewish figure or figure of speech, yet he is in The Protocols.
Not to mention the fact that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion.
Right. Jews would not compare themselves to Vishnu in a plot to take over the world. Believers in The Protocols suggest that Jews used the figure of Vishnu and his hundred arms to show their power over the press — but it’s simply not a reference Jews would use. It’s alien to Jews and Judaism.
It’s similar to an image the Nazis and other antisemities have used: an octopus on top of the world with numerous tentacles controlling everything.
Actually, that image was on a very well-known cover of The Protocols. Also, there is language in The Protocols where the Jewish elders supposedly talk about circling the globe like a snake, so you have the great serpent as well. Obviously, that has resonance going back to the Garden of Eden and the snake, the source of disobedience to God and the Original Sin.
Why have The Protocols had such power and influence over people?
I think part of power of The Protocols is precisely the fact that there is no clear author who takes credit for it. It’s a lot like QAnon today. “Q” drops these oracular statements, but we don’t know who they’re coming from. It could be coming from anybody in a position of authority, which for some reason gives them credibility to certain people.
When you don’t know for sure who the source is, you can’t challenge the work. You can’t say, “That person is a liar… or that person is misguided… or that person is crazy.” If you’re looking for a crutch, if you’re looking for support for your conspiracy fantasies, the anonymity makes it even more compelling in some ways. It’s harder to argue against an anonymous source.
That concludes Part One of our in-depth interview with Mark Weitzman. Part Two, about the impact The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has had and continues to have in the world, will appear in the next edition of AntisemtisimExposed.org.
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