"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" -- a phony road map to the non-existent Jewish plot to take over the world and the 20th century's greatest hoax -- is now re-emerging as an obstacle to Mideast peace. To understand why the growing popularity in the Arab and Muslim world of "The Protocols" and other big lies of European origin is such bad news, a little history is in order.
"The Protocols" emerged during the disastrous reign of Russian Czar Nicholas II. Thoroughly conned by his own secret police, which concocted "The Protocols" in the first place to deflect popular discontent from the Russian establishment onto the Jews, the czar kept a copy beside the Bible on his night table -- but, in the end, his retreat into hate fantasies only speeded his own demise.
An early admirer of "The Protocols" was Henry Ford, who, undaunted by its 1921 exposure as a fraud by The Times of London, produced his own English-language version, titled, "The International Jew," and gave away a copy with each Model T he sold in the early 1920s. Ford sales soon plummeted.
In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler made "The Protocols" required reading in the schools of Nazi Germany, while America's radio priest, Father Coughlin, broadcast its libels until Pearl Harbor.
Not even the reality of Auschwitz could bury this warrant for genocide -- which reappeared in the 1970s at the Saudi court, where King Faisal presented a special edition of "The Protocols," with gold-inlay lettering, to distinguished visitors, including Henry Kissinger.
In Japan, a country with virtually no Jews, it also became a perennial best seller -- regularly updated to fit the crisis du jour.
Closer to home, Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam in the 1980s added "The Protocols" to the crackpot booklist it marketed in America's ghettos. In the 1990s, "The Protocols" was available worldwide, posted online in a dozen languages, digitally feeding ignorance and hate.
And now, as we are on the brink of war with Iraq, "The Protocols" has arisen, phoenix-like, in the land of ancient civilizations, in a new mass-media guise. It is the inspiration of the script of "Horse Without a Horseman."
This 41-episode, star-studded television miniseries, produced by Dream TV for Egyptian state-run television, is being broadcast on Saddam Hussein's Iraqi TV and 20 other satellite networks throughout the Arab world. Promoted as family fair for the holy the month of Ramadan, it provides a steady, hate-filled diet to millions of Muslim families gathering around the TV as they break their daily fast.
Responding to criticism, Egypt's press attaché in Washington denied that the television program was anti-Semitic, but cynically added that "the Egyptian media and arts are a reflection of the Egyptian street and its passions." Indeed, the opposite is true, as Arab demagoguery not only unleashes the Arab street's anti-Semitism, but ratchets up Jew hatred to the level of statecraft.
Far beyond popular entertainment, "The Protocols" is being propagated as serious intellectual fare by the Abu Dhabi-based Zayed Centre, a prestigious think tank backed by the Arab League. And in Bahrain, the Discover Islam Centre is rolling out the red carpet for America's most notorious anti-Jewish conspiracy theorist, David Duke, who'll lecture on "The Global Struggle Against Zionism" and "Israeli Involvement in September 11 Attacks."
Another anti-Semitic European import increasingly popular in the Arab and Muslim world -- the medieval Blood Libel accusing Jews of murdering children for purposes of ritual sacrifice -- is disseminated by the Saudi press and validated by such elite figures as Syria's Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass. Tlass' book, "The Matzah of Zion," a bestseller in Syria, came out in an eighth edition just as the U.N. Security Council, on which Syria sits this year, was debating sanctions against Iraq.
Although medieval and modern hate fantasies like the Blood Libel and "The Protocols" did not originate in the Arab and Muslim world, they now have taken deep enough root there even to form part of the cultural baggage that immigrants from the region bring to America.
And though conspiratorial-mindedness is not a monopoly of Muslim fundamentalists, they are the leading purveyors of the crackpot theory that Israel or the U.S. government itself blew up the World Trade Center. Given the reality of 9/11, the world should be alarmed by the domestic and international implications of the growing embrace -- via sermons, the mass media and Internet chat rooms -- of such hateful flights into fantasy.
Having allowed the big lie against Jews to grow in the heart of their civilization for centuries, Europe and America have, until now, largely stood idly by as "The Protocols" has morphed into a weapon, not only directed against Jews, but targeting the Western world's vital global interests.
Without taking clear-cut action to remove the atomic waste of state-sanctioned hatred that is poisoning Arab and Muslim public opinion, the world will continue to witness terror bombings far beyond the Holy Land -- and America's new road map for Mideast peace won't be worth the paper it's written on.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the center.