From the Archives: A Brief History of “The Protocols” in the U.S. » ADL Blogs
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August 6, 2014 0

From the Archives: A Brief History of “The Protocols” in the U.S.

This week marks the 50th anniver­sary of a report by the Inter­nal Secu­rity Sub­com­mit­tee of the Sen­ate Judi­ciary Com­mit­tee repu­di­at­ing The Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion,a piece of para­noid, racist lit­er­a­ture long used by anti-Semites as sup­posed proof of a Jew­ish con­spir­acy to take over the world.

The Sen­ate report offered a his­tory and analy­sis of The Pro­to­cols, not­ing that it con­tin­ued to be “cir­cu­lated by the unscrupu­lous and accepted by the unthink­ing” despite being “repeat­edly and author­i­ta­tively exposed as a vicious hoax.”

The report described The Pro­to­cols as “one of a num­ber of fraud­u­lent doc­u­ments that ped­dle the myth of an ‘inter­na­tional Jew­ish con­spir­acy,’” adding that it had been among the most mali­cious (indeed, Adolf Hitler linked the nefar­i­ous plot of The Pro­to­cols with Germany’s post-war eco­nomic hard­ships). It fur­ther declared: “it is impos­si­ble for a fair minded per­son of any com­mon­sense not to see that the ‘Pro­to­cols’ are the fic­tional prod­uct of a warped mind and that for years they have been and still are the chief sta­ple of the anti-Jewish pamphleteer.”dearborn-independent-international-jew

At the time of its release, the Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee requested pub­li­ca­tion of the report “in order to lay to rest any hon­est ques­tion con­cern­ing the nature, ori­gin, and sig­nif­i­cance of this ancient canard.” The Judi­ciary Committee’s report came 44 years after the intro­duc­tion of The Pro­to­cols to an Amer­i­can audi­ence and the ADL’s first cam­paign against it.

On May 22, 1920, Henry Ford’s news­pa­per, The Dear­born Inde­pen­dent, pub­lished the first install­ment of The Pro­to­cols under a ban­ner head­line: The Inter­na­tional Jew: The World’s Prob­lem. Rewrit­ten and “Amer­i­can­ized” for a US audi­ence, the Inde­pen­dent’s ver­sion of The Pro­to­cols appeared in issue after issue, pam­phlet, and book form. Mil­lions of copies were spread through­out the United States by Ford deal­ers, who were required to make copies avail­able to cus­tomers, and mem­bers of the KKK and other hate groups.

The fol­low­ing month, ADL sent “a dig­ni­fied let­ter ask­ing for a con­fer­ence” to Ford. When no response was received, an ADL inves­ti­ga­tion dis­closed “that the anti-Semitic cam­paign of The Dear­born Inde­pen­dent was delib­er­ately planned and a suf­fi­cient amount of evi­dence was secured to prove that the pub­lisher had the will­ing coop­er­a­tion not merely of for­eign anti-Jewish orga­ni­za­tions but of many groups in America.”

In Sep­tem­ber 1920, a spe­cial con­fer­ence of Jew­ish lead­ers con­vened and tasked ADL with spear­head­ing the response. ADL cir­cu­lated two pam­phlets out­lin­ing the his­tory and fab­ri­ca­tion of the Pro­to­cols: The Pro­to­cols – A Spu­ri­ous Doc­u­ment and The Poi­son Pen: Fur­ther rev­e­la­tions con­cern­ing Anti-Semitic Pro­pa­ganda in the United States. ADL again reached out to Ford and this time came to an agree­ment, but it was soon broken.the-truth-about-the-protocols-cover

On Jan­u­ary 16, 1921 author John Spargo released a let­ter of protest against anti-Semitic pro­pa­ganda signed by 119 dis­tin­guished non-Jewish Amer­i­cans, includ­ing Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son and for­mer Pres­i­dents William Howard Taft and Theodore Roo­sevelt. ADL reprinted and dis­sem­i­nated Spargo’s let­ter and an arti­cle on anti-Semitism by for­mer Pres­i­dent Taft.

By 1927, Ford had pub­licly repu­di­ated the Inter­na­tional Jew and issued a pub­lic apol­ogy, and decades later, after The Pro­to­cols had become a sta­ple of Nazi pro­pa­ganda, Ford again expressed his con­cern about the cir­cu­la­tion of The Inter­na­tional Jew.

In a 1942 let­ter to ADL, Ford wrote, “I do not sub­scribe to or sup­port, directly or indi­rectly, any agi­ta­tion which would pro­mote antag­o­nism against my Jew­ish fel­low cit­i­zens.” Despite his apolo­gies, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple around the world have been encour­aged by his ini­tial endorse­ment to accept the Pro­to­cols as gen­uine. Many today remain skep­ti­cal of Ford’s apology.

Since A Spu­ri­ous Doc­u­ment and The Poi­son Pen, instances of resur­gent use of The Pro­to­cols has spurred addi­tional ADL pub­li­ca­tions refut­ing The Pro­to­cols, includ­ing The Truth About the Pro­to­cols of the Wise Men of Zion (1939–1945), The Pro­to­cols and the Purge Trial (1952), and The Pro­to­cols: Myth and His­tory (1981).

Today, ADL mon­i­tors and reports on the con­tin­ued use of The Pro­to­cols by extrem­ists and anti-Semites around the globe. ADL has long asked book­sellers who stock The Pro­to­cols to label and cat­e­go­rize it appro­pri­ately. This prac­tice extends to online book sell­ers; both Ama­zon and Barnes & Noble place promi­nently on their list­ings of The Pro­to­cols an ADL state­ment that it is an anti-Semitic pla­gia­rized forgery, in addi­tion to lan­guage that makes clear the book­sellers do not endorse the con­tent.  

For more about The Pro­to­cols, see ADL’s The ‘Pro­to­cols’ at 100: A Hoax of Hate Lives On, A Hoax of Hate: The Pro­to­cols of the Learned Elders of Zion, and The Inter­na­tional Jew: 1920s Anti-Semitism Revived Online.