Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas Morning News:
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Last week, the Palestinian Authority made headlines in Israel when it deleted from its Web site a link to a notorious anti-Semitic tract.
The same century-old tract is the target of the last major book by the late Will Eisner, the inventor of the graphic novel. It's the subject of a documentary that debuted this year at the Sundance Film Festival. And it's inspired a new satire of anti-Semitism by two editors of Heeb , the Jewish humor magazine.
What is it about an old, bigoted screed that merits such attention?
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been the Jew-hater's main manifesto for more than100 years.
The Protocols purports to be the minutes of a clandestine meeting of Jewish leaders near the end of the 19th century.
The book claims that these Jewish conspirators are planning to take over the world through secret control of the media, manipulation of the money supply and domination of all governments. (Plus, they're going to institute such "ultramodern" reforms as universal suffrage, a minimum wage, part-time legislatures, and a mandatory retirement age of 55 for judges. The conspirators would also ban drunkenness and use sports and entertainment as wildly hyped distractions.)
The book is a total fraud. First published in 1902, it was plagiarized, scholars say, from sources that originally attacked the Masons, Jesuits and Napoleon III of France.
Even though research debunking The Protocols is almost as old as the book itself, the danger it poses is absolutely current, said David Cook, an assistant professor of religious studies at Rice University. Dr. Cook, who has spent the past four months in Africa studying Islam, has found The Protocols to be "wildly popular" there.
"Because liberalism and democracy are essentially the targets of The Protocols (the Jews being the scapegoat) societies that are coming out of a long history of authoritarian rule are particularly vulnerable to their influence," he wrote this week in an e-mail from Nigeria.
The Protocols was publicly exposed as a forgery by The Times of London in 1921.
The modern anti-Israel terrorist organization Hamas cites The Protocols as proof that "the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates."
In a forward to Mr. Eisner's graphic novel, the Italian scholar Umberto Eco traced the process that produced The Protocols:
It started with two books written in France in the mid-1800s that suggested that the Jesuits were trying to conquer the world. The theme was borrowed in 1864 by Maurice Joly, a French political essayist and caustic critic of the emperor, Naploeon III. Mr. Joly used the anti-Jesuit books as the basis for The Dialogue In Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, a satire that accused the emperor of betraying the ideals of the French Revolution.
A few years later, a German anti-Semite swiped some of Mr. Joly's material for a novel that made Jews the enemy. He added a plot twist: a secret meeting of Jewish leaders in a Prague cemetery.
When the Russian monarchists were looking for ways to demonize the Jews a few years later, they turned to Mathieu Golovinski, a Russian agent working in Paris. He took the German novel and some of Mr. Joly's original material and turned them into The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which he claimed was a nonfictional account of a real meeting of Jewish conspiracists.
A careful reading of The Protocols side-by-side with Mr. Joly's satire turns up passage after passage of stolen material. The plagiarized stuff even appears in the same order in both books.