Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terror group that started war on Israel July 12, trusts in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hezbollah insists the text, which has twice proven to be an 1895 forgery by Tsarist officials in Paris, is the transcript of the First Zionist Congress in Basle Switzerland in 1897.
So potent is this blood libel--and so well matched to Hezbollah's lethal designs--that the terror group collaborated with Iran to produce a Protocols television series for its Al Manar TV. Broadcast in Lebanon during Ramadan in October 2003, the programs were then aired in Iran in 2004. Among other horrors, they feature the murder of a Christian child to bake Passover Matzah.
In Egypt, the Ministries of Information and Culture vetted and approved the 41-part TV series, Horseman without a Horse: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which aired in late 2002. Despite U.S. State Department condemnation, Minister Safwat El-Sherif announced that it “contains no anti-Semitic material” and refused to halt broadcasts. The editor of Al-Akhbar newspaper even called international opprobrium “a barbaric attack on Egyptian and Arab art.”
The 2005 centennial of the Protocols was truly cause for international mourning. Despite its age, the lie--that a shadowy group of Jewish leaders plans to dominate the world and is even now implementing the final stages of their strategy--will not die.
This is the subject addressed by former Israeli Supreme Court justice Hadassa Ben-Itto in her masterful book, The Lie that Wouldn't Die--The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which capped six years of investigation into the forgery's etymology and its dark power, and was recently published in English. The book is an important reminder of why the U.S. should veto any U.N. ceasefire resolution that caves in to Hezbollah's terrorist demands.
Ben-Itto first encountered the political use of the Protocols in 1965 at the United Nations General Assembly. At the invitation of Golda Meir, then Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ben-Itto was in Israel's delegation to Third Committee deliberations on human rights when a Russian delegate referred to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Despite receiving the customary “right of reply,” Ben-Itto's rebuttal neglected to debunk the notorious forgery. Later, a friendly non-Jewish diplomat chided her for her silence. Take heed from history, he warned her. “This book is dangerous.”
Over time, Ben-Itto many times heard bigots exploit the Protocols to foment hatred, but she found time to read them only in 1988, after headlines announced publication of a new edition. While titles varied, she found, the unnamed speaker in all editions presents “in concise form, a comprehensive program for the annihilation of all Christian states, proposing practical methods for achieving world domination by the Jews.”
The book then describes the Jewish people as a satanic sect, “united in purpose, acting under the leadership of a group of elders, who lacked any moral consideration.” Each of 24 sections elaborates on the means to achieve predominance of a “Jewish super-government.”
Although it is the very antithesis of Jewish thought, over a century the text has nevertheless convinced masses of dupes that the malicious fraud is true.
In 1988, Ben-Itto was invited to lecture in Berne Switzerland, where she met the petite Odette Brunschvig, 70, whose late husband Georges Brunschvig, in October 1934 prosecuted a case against the Protocols, under a 1916 Swiss statute prohibiting publication of “obscene literature.” The statute targeted pornography, but offered no definition of “obscene literature,” and judge Walter Meyer, a Christian, in November 1933 determined to try the case on its merits. A year later Judge Meyer appointed independent experts. And in 1935--given testimony and affidavits by several witnesses to the Tsarist crime--Meyer ruled the text a forgery, plagiarized to malign Jews and incite their mass murder in Russia.
The story of how Tsarists viciously leveraged Maurice Joly's anti-Napoleonic 1864 novel, Dialogues in Hell, is a tale of court intrigue, Russian Orthodox mysticism, peasant anti-Semitism and counter-revolutionary tactics so complex as to confound the mind. But Ben-Itto's meticulous search through French, Russian, British, South African and Swiss archives, private libraries, journalists' notes and court records on three continents, plus interviews with dozens of witnesses, proves (again) that truth is often stranger than fiction.
Many books previously detailed the facts. But before Ben-Itto's book appeared in Hebrew in 1998, no one had examined the strange confluence of characters that created the forgery--much less why the Protocols took on a life of their own. While disclosing many undisclosed intricacies in the plot, Ben-Itto created a fast-paced, real-life adventure story, impossible to put down.
In 1864, the daring Maurice Joly anonymously published his Dialogues in Geneva, against the better advice of many friends. He thought to oppose the oppressive regime of Napoleon III with a 324-page Dialogues, staged between Niccolo Machiavelli and the fictional Charles de Secondat Montesqieu. On his return to France, however, Joly was arrested, imprisoned and “charged with inciting hatred and contempt of the French government.” The novel was immediately banned, and remained out of print from 1865 until 1933; the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris had few copies.
But the virtually inaccessible book Joly had intended as a force for good was soon put to nefarious use. In 1882, the Catholic Union Bank collapsed, ruining many middle class French families, while Jewish banks flourished. Edouard Drumont began publishing his anti-Semitic La Libre Parole newspaper, spreading the idea that Jews intended to economically and politically dominate the world. Thus the “Jewish conspiracy” myth gained wide French support.
In January 1895, France convicted its only Jewish Captain, Alfred Dreyfus, of treason. In 1896, Drumont boasted he had influenced the verdict--which was eventually proved the result of two letters forged by a French anti-Semite. But it took 11 years--and backing from novelist Emile Zola--before Dreyfus was completely cleared in a third trial in 1906.
Meanwhile, the decline and fall of Russia's Romanov dynasty also fueled the 1895 plot to forge the Protocols. In November 1894, political turmoil roiled the Russian empire. A restless population, supported by liberal Russian nobles and zemstvo representatives, demanded a constitution. They harbored grave doubts about young Prince Nikolai II's suitability to lead 187 million people. But Nikolai favored continuing Alexander III's reactionary policies over political reform--evoking “a crushing feeling of betrayal” from Geneva's expatriate Revolutionary Executive Committee.
The new tsar further empowered Piotr Ivanovich Rachkovskii, who had operated the foreign arm of Russia's Okhrana police in Paris since 1884. To spy on suspected revolutionaries, Rachkovskii bribed building concierges, intercepted mail, bought photographs and compiled dossiers on every Russian emigrant to Paris. Thus equipped--and often assisted by carefully crafted forgeries--he campaigned to discredit and bankrupt some, and then renumerated his unfortunate victims to spy on others.
A Small Miracle
Nearly four decades had passed when the Swiss Jewish community, alarmed by the circulation of the Protocols, hired an inexperienced Jewish attorney Georges Brunschvig in 1933 to prove them false. Yet Brunschvig found several non-Jewish witnesses to corroborate Rachkovskii's routine practice of forgery, detail several examples of his more “modest” efforts--and expose his “most outstanding” work, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
First was Sergei Svatikov, a former St. Petersburg and Heidelberg law professor, whom Russia's provisional government sent to Paris after Tsar Nikolai's March 1917 abdication. Assigned to dissolve Okhrana's foreign offices, the 37-year-old Social Democrat met Henri Bint, formerly Rachkovskii's most trusted agent, and a 37-year Okhrana veteran.
Okhrana had long indulged in forgery, Bint told Svatikov. On his 1884 arrival in Paris, Rachkovskii immediately followed suit, and he grew ever more devious over time. Rachkovskii had often fabricated letters, pamphlets and anti-revolutionary provocations. Bint followed a precedent established by Frenchman Edouard Drumont, a fantastic anti-Semitic fabrication entitled La France Juive, which had been published more than 200 times.
Bint himself paid Rachkovskii's two regular forgers, including Matvei Golovinskii, who copied Maurice Joly's 1864 book, in the Bibliotheque Nationale. In 1901, the Okhrana had falsely ascribed the manuscript to the Jews as “The Zion Syndrome.” Svatikov took scrupulous notes.
By 1921, Svatikov had emigrated to Paris. Bint was cynical and incredulous that “this proven forgery is now being published in many languages,” particularly since he could personally testify to having “renumerated the forgers.” Svatikov now himself went to the Bibliotheque Nationale and reviewed four copies of Joly's Dialogues. In one, he found dozens of “marked passages corresponding” to those in the Protocols. Bint told Svatikov, “Rachikovskii must be laughing in his grave.”
Following his Berne testimony, Svatikov showed the court a rare original copy of the “Zionist document,” which Bint's widow had given him in the late 1920s.
Corroboration on forger Matvei Golovinskii came from Vladimir Burtsev, the former editor of Russia's historical Byloe journal, and another emigre to Paris. Golovinskii, while gifted man, was a known and rabidly anti-Semitic Okhrana agent--who completely lacked principles and had often maintained that a “Jewish world conspiracy” supported revolutionary parties to achieve “world domination.”
Burtsev first read the Protocols in 1906 and decided that publicizing this “crude and absurd fabrication,” even to discredit it, would lend the text “undeserved recognition.” But others lacked such scruples. In 1917, Burtsev was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and was horrified to learn that his cell mate, former police chief Stepan Petrovich Beletskii, had in 1911 helped prosecute Mendel Beilis, who was falsely accused of ritually murdering a Christian child. Moreover, Beletskii had told Burtsev, while “everybody” knew the Protocols to be a “crude forgery,” they were disseminated widely anyway--to falsely discredit the Jews for “revolutionary activities.”
Brunschvig also called Graf Armand Alexander du Chayla, who in 1909 had spent nine months at the Russian Orthodox monastery at Optina Pustyn, where he became well acquainted with Sergei Nilus, the virulently anti-Semitic, albeit deeply religious publisher of the first 1905 edition of the Protocols.
Nilus obtained a copy of The Protocols in France. After losing his farm income and Kavkaz investigating judgeship, Nilus in the 1890s had fled to France with his mistress, Nataliia Komarovskaia. There, Nilus told du Chayla, she acquired the book from Okhrana chief Rachkovskii. In 1900, they returned to Russia in utter financial ruin--which Nilus blamed on the Jews. But the forgery gave Nilus new power.
Tsar Nikolai deeply hated the Jews and was fascinated by the Protocols. But he overruled their use after interior minister Piotr Arkadevich Stolypin reported the document to be an Okhrana forgery. “Drop the Protocols,” he ordered. “One cannot defend a pure cause by dirty methods.”
Nilus was not dissuaded, however. In 1901, he published The Great in the Small, a reactionary mystical tract that deeply impressed Tsarina Alexandra's religious sister, Princess Elizaveta Fedorovna. In 1902, Elizaveta introduced Nilus to the tsarina's lady in waiting, Elena Alexandrovna Ozerova, whom he shortly thereafter married. Both Ozerova's influence and support from Princess Elizaveta convinced the Russian censorship committee to reverse the tsar's ruling. Nilus published The Protocols in the appendix of his 1905 edition of The Great in the Small.
Not coincidentally, also in 1905, the tsar recalled Paris Okhrana chief Rachkovskii to Russia--as deputy director of political affairs. Given Rachkovskii's long history of mass producing forgeries to foment false suspicions, The Protocols' sudden proliferation in Russia was entirely predictable.
The Orthodox church later refused to ordain Nilus as a priest. He, Ozerova and his disabled mistress Komarovskaia decamped to the Optina Pustyn monastery, where he met du Chayla in 1909. But the damage was done.
In 1935, after 18 months, Judge Walter Meyer ruled for the Jewish people. “I hope that a time will come when nobody will understand how in the year 1935 almost a dozen sane and reasonable men could for 14 days torment their brains before a Berne court over the authenticity of these so-called Protocols, these Protocols which, despite the harm they have caused and may yet cause, are nothing more than ridiculous nonsense.”
Although it reversed the decision in 1937 on a technicality--that “obscene” under the Swiss law applied solely to pornography--the appeals court also vilified the defendants. “This scurrilous work contains unheard of and unjustified attacks against the Jews and must without reservation be judged to be immoral literature,” the court ruled, while castigating the defendants for disseminating “libelous and insulting writings of the greatest possible coarseness.”
The malicious libels in the Protocols have been twice tried in South Africa--in Grahamstown (1934) and Johannesburg (1991)--and twice disproved. In 1991, South Africa's Publications Appeals Board unanimously declared the Protocols of the Elders of Zion an “undesirable document,” and prohibited both its publication and its possession. In Germany, the publication is banned; it was also outlawed in France in 1990, after a neo-Nazi attack on a Jewish cemetery. Even in Russia a judge, in 1993, agreed that the Protocols are a crass forgery. In the U.S., the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 1964 unanimously adopted a report on the Protocols' fabrication, and entered the report into the public record.
In spite of all the contrary evidence, however, history's most potent lie seems more dangerous now than ever before. Millions of copies have been sold since Hitler used the forgery to fuel the Holocaust and the destruction of 6 million Jews.
Since the 1940s, the Protocols have spread throughout the Arab and Muslim world, in Middle Eastern Sunni and Shi'ite nations, and across Asia. Indeed, excepting Israel, the book is available almost everywhere in the Muslim world--not only in bookstores, but in five-star hotels--and is often promoted by government-controlled media and the highest ranking, government appointed religious clerics.
The Protocols, along with traditional Islamic beliefs, form the basis of the Hamas Charter, which openly calls for the annihilation of Israel and the Jewish people. Indeed, the list of Arab and Muslim figures attesting to the “truth” of the Protocols is virtually endless. Often, they are well-known clerics--like Sheik Muhammad Al-Mussayer of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, the most prominent school of Sunni Islam, and Palestinian Authority-appointed Jerusalem Mufti Ikrima Sabri. And if that weren't enough, many Islamist websites, including Radio Islam and the Arabic Hamasna, also publish them, in RadioIslam's case, with translations into at least 16 languages.
Islamic acceptance: No accident
Unfortunately, Ben-Itto does not understand that Islam's widespread and easy acceptance of the Protocols in the last 66 years is no simple accident of history.
In fact, anti-Semitism fits neatly into Islamic ideology, as exhibited in the Qu'ran, Hadith, classical Islamic jurisprudence and in end-time eschatology, according to Islamic scholar Dr. Andrew G. Bostom. He cites, for example, a 1937 essay by Georges Vajda, noting that Muslim eschatology from the Hadith (deeds and sayings attributed to Mohammed) hostilely describes Jews as “adherents of the Dajjal--the Muslim equivalent of the Anti-Christ--and as per another tradition, the Dajjal is in fact Jewish.” Elsewhere, it is said that the Dajjal will appear, accompanied by 70,000 Jews, who when he is defeated, will be slaughtered.
Then there is the revered Hadith, (Sahih Muslim, Book 40, Number 6985), when a Jew seeks refuge under a tree or a stone, they will speak and tell Muslims: “There is a Jew behind me; come and kill him!”
Many Qu'ranic verses openly and hatefully label Jews. In 5:82, Jews are described as “the worst enemies of the believers;” in 2:61, their disobedience makes them “laden with God's anger.” Still elsewhere (5:60), they are transformed into apes and swine. It is also reported, both by Ibn Hisham (d. 834), in The Life of The Prophet, and by Sahih Muslim, that a Jewish woman poisoned Mohammed and caused his lengthy, agonizing death.
Ironically, while accepting the Protocols, and indeed all their classical religious portrayals of Jews (and all other non-Muslim infidels), Muslims are themselves methodically doing that of which they accuse the Jews--attempting to reign supreme over the world.
As Shi'ite cleric al-Amili (d. 1622) explained concerning jihad in the Persian Jami-i-Abbas, on Shi'ite jurisprudence,
Islamic Holy war [jihad] against followers of other religions, such as Jews, is required unless they convert to Islam or pay the poll tax.
That is to say, pay homage to Islam, or die.
But Ben-Itto's book is an important read for everyone concerned about the terrorists' war on the West--and their adoption of the greatest lie of all time.
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