It was the deadliest and one of the most persistent hoaxes in history. You probably have not heard of it & if you did you probably did not believe it, but millions did know about it, did believe it AND acted on their beliefs. Millions more were affected.
Alex and I went to a lecture on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Considering this document is instructive from so many angles. It is obviously a study in hate, but it is perhaps more pragmatically a study in how hoaxes, credulity and the desire to believe in conspiracy shapes events.
Sure, it is all wrong, but it is still all true
The Protocols were debunked almost immediately after they were promulgated in 1902/3. It just made no sense. Supposedly, the protocols recorded a meeting of Jewish leaders sometime around 1897, where they laid out a plan for world domination. From the beginning, the facts just did not make sense. For example, the event is said to take place AROUND 1897. There was no precise date. Where the meeting took place was also left unclear, as well as who attended or how they got there. Presumably, a large meeting of international leaders would be a logistical feat attracting some attention. Nobody ever came forward to claim to have been at the meeting or seen the meeting.
None of this seemed to matter. Some believers just assumed that Jews were so crafty that they could cover their trail so that nobody could find it. More surprisingly, many other believers admitted that the facts were all wrong, but that they somehow represented a greater truth. Sure, it is all wrong, but it is still all true.
Weaponizing lies for an international audience
The Protocols had a long lasting and malicious legacy. It was created to be weaponized as a tool of hate and it worked. Ralph Nurnberger said that this was the single most damaging antisemitic document in history, worse even than “Mein Kampf.” The Protocols built on a long tradition, but they made antisemitism international and gave it the rationale we recognize today. They had a big impact in the Islamic world, where Jews had lived in relative harmony since the Islamic conquests, and in places that did not have any, or many, Jews at all, such as in Japan. It persists in these places. Nurnberger mentioned a recent Cairo bookfair the featured multiple edition of the “Protocols.” When Israeli diplomats complained, they were told that they did not have to attend.
The more facts you bring to debunk, the more we think it is true
As I mentioned above, the “Protocols” were debunked right away and continued to be debunked as different editions showed up in different places. When the “Protocols” came to the USA, the “New York Times” wrote a full-page article pointing out the various problems with the “Protocols.” The “Times of London” has done this earlier. This, ironically, this debunking confirmed the belief for true believers, since the “Protocols” warned that Jews controlled the media and for the believers that fact of the debunking just proved the truth.
This is one reason why conspiracy theories are so persistent. They include within them the antibodies against truth. In fact, the more facts come out against them, the more it confirms the belief.
The “Protocols” are now in their second century. Unfortunately, they are not just history.
This event was sold out and every chair was taken. Good to know that enough people have the intellectual curiosity to be attracted to such events.