It has been nearly one hundred years since the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion", a forged, notorious screed purporting to expose a plot for Jewish domination of the world, crawled onto the world stage. In that time, it has become an anti-Semitic manifesto used by, among others, czarist Russia, Nazi Germany, Henry Ford, and contemporary Japan to perpetrate hatred for and suspicion of Jews.
In fact, the plagiaristic forgery was created by Czar Nicholas II's okhranka, the secret police, presumably as a pretext for justifying European pogroms; and, after propitiously being 'discovered' in a closet, the booklet was first published in a public edition by Sergius Nilus in 1905. Though widely recognized for what it is-a malevolent adaptation of earlier pamphlet, "Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu", published by the French satirist Maurice Joly, the Protocols have fueled Jewish conspiracy theories that have served as the foundation for anti-Semitic feelings worldwide.
Now the Protocols is finding new life, and acceptance, in the Arab world, signaling what Bernard Lewis, a historian of Islam and the Middle East, has called the ''Islamization of anti-Semitism,'' - an adaptation of the European anti-Jewish hatreds and myths for the new purpose of deriding and debasing Israel and Zionism. What is worse, according to Lewis, is that the Arabic strain of racism, untruths, and hatred against Jews and Israel is not only more virulent than its European counterpart, but is not counterbalanced by true scholarship or competing reason. As a result, attitudes and beliefs long discredited in the modernity of Western countries take root with gullible, impressionable Middle Eastern audiences from a pre-modern culture.
One clear example of the new use of old anti-Semitism was last November's airing, on state-sanctioned Egyptian television, of "Horse Without a Horseman," a forty-one part soap opera that featured the supposed discovery and translation the Protocols, as well as scenes of bearded 'elders' plotting the control of world by Jews. While the airing of the series, during the feast of Ramadan, brought vocal protests from Western governments, the fictional program apparently found wide Arab audiences willing to suspend disbelief - including Hala Sarhan, vice president of Dream TV, the independent channel that produced the series. "In a way, don't [Jews] dominate?" Sarhan mused in the New York Times. "Of course, what we read from the "Protocols,' it says it's a kind of conspiracy. They want to control; they want to dominate..."
The temper of those attitudes was generally echoed in the Egyptian press, most of which gave unqualified support to the veracity of the series and rallied against efforts to suppress or apologize for it. A column titled "No To Ideological Terrorism," which appeared in the government daily Al-Akhbar, editorialized, for instance, that "those who cast doubts upon the authenticity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion argue that it was the Russian Czar Nikolai II's [secret police] who compiled them, with the aim of placing responsibility for Russia's suffering during his time on the Jews... The most important question is: in practice, doesn't Zionism seek to take over the world with money, murder, sex, and the [other] most despicable of means, primarily in our generation?"
That same November issue of Al-Akhbar contained an article by Fatma Abdallah Mahmoud, whose views had already been made public when he scolded Hitler for not having finished his work in annihilating the Jews. "The unshakable truth is that the 'Sons of Zion' are the anti-Semites and the enemies of all humanity," he wrote. "What incriminates them more than anything else, and charges them with anti-Semitism and enmity towards humanity is the [book]... [that is] satanic in its blood and loathsome in its baseness, called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion!!... The book of protocols drips poison and hatred towards every non-Jew who lives on the face of the earth!!..."
Al Ahram, Egypt's largest newspaper, contained more restrained, but equally fallacious material in a recent article on Jewish influence. "A compilation of the 'investigative' work of four reporters on Jewish control of the world," the piece conclusively announced, "states that Jews have become the political decision-makers and control the media in most capitals of the world... and says that the main apparatus for the Jews to control the world is the international Jewish lobby which works for Israel."
In November, the Egyptian publication Aqidati alluded to the same "book of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to which the Jews deny any connection, [which] states the basic rules and policies employed by a group of human beings who think that they alone were given God's promise to inherit the earth and the people on it... The Jews deny that they have these base ideas, but always when a crime occurs, the finger is pointed towards the one who stands to gain from it. The Jews have gained from all that happened to the human race even in ancient times. They ignited the fire of wars from ancient times; it was they who today control all the great political forces in the world, which act for their benefit everywhere; it is they who wage offensives against whoever disagrees with them or exposes their methods. The word 'anti-Semitism' has become a ready-made accusation [directed] at anyone who dares to resist them."
In such a highly-charged intellectual atmosphere, where attitudes are fomented through hatred and misrepresentation, it is not surprising that other Middle Eastern countries share beliefs in Jewish conspiracies and strong anti-Semitic views as well. Palestinian terror group Hamas includes a reference to the Protocols in its own charter, for example. "With their money [Jews] formed secret societies," it reads, "in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests." A Newsweek poll taken shortly after September 11th found that some forty-eight percent of Pakistanis believed that Jews were responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center, a belief shared by others throughout the Arab world.
Equally disturbing is the re-emergence of old myths such as the 'blood libel' slander which accuses Jews of using non-Jewish blood in rituals to make matzos. Writing in Al-Akhbar a Dr. Mahmoud Al-Said Al-Kurdi presented a scene based on his belief that "The Talmud, the second holiest book for the Jews, determines that the 'matzos' of Atonement Day [sic] must be kneaded 'with blood' from a non-Jew. The preference is for the blood of youths after raping them!!"
"Anti-Semitism," wrote Stephen Eric Bronner, author of the engaging book "A Rumor About The Jews", "is the stupid answer to a serious question: how does history operate behind our backs?" The Protocols give a perverse and paranoiac view of the way history operates, in this case with the 'other,' the Jews, at the helm of governments, religion, the press, and the financial markets. Until Arabs can walk away from the old myths and lies, until they stop disseminating disinformation as a tool in their political struggle, they will still inhabit a world in which such theories can be taken seriously at all.