THE LEADERS of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan startled observers last month when they initially condemned Hezbollah's attacks on Israel and failed to show solidarity with the Shiite terrorist group. Most surprised of all were ordinary Arabs, who took to the streets in protest. At anti-Israel rallies in places like Cairo and Amman, demonstrators chanted, "Where is Arab honor? Down with reactionary and treacherous Arab regimes!" The sentiment was echoed on Arab websites and seized on by extremist groups across the Sunni-Shiite divide.
No wonder many Arabs felt betrayed. Loathing for Israel and Jews is ingrained in a region where the official cultures demonize not only specific actions and policies of the state of Israel, but even its very existence. Several Arab governments provide their people cradle-to-grave indoctrination in raw anti-Semitism. Their education systems, government media, and state-financed clergy bombard citizens with the view that Jews must be hated and feared for theological, political, and social reasons.
Saudi Arabia's public schools, for example, instruct that Jews "obey the devil" and are those whom "God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied." The Saudi edition of the Koran injects the phrase "such as the Jews" into the opening chapter, following the clause "those who have incurred your [God's] wrath."
Of all the anti-Jewish influences in the region, one of the most prevalent and potent is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Disseminated with the support and official sanction of the governments of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Palestine, and Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, this work is used to shape the collective consciousness of Arab populations. The Protocols is a century-old fabrication that purports to record the ma chinations of Jews conspiring to rule the world through treach ery, fraud, and violence. Its prose is childish and rambling, as in this excerpt, taken from the eleventh of the 24 protocols:
The goyim [non-Jews] are a flock of sheep, and we are their wolves. . . . For what purpose then have we invented this whole policy and insinuated it into the minds of the goys without giving them any chance to examine its underlying meaning? . . . It is this which has served as the basis for our organization of secret masonry which is not known to, and whose aims are not even so much as suspected by, these goy cattle, attracted by us into the 'show' army of Masonic Lodges in order to throw dust in the eyes of their fellows. God has given us, his chosen people, the power to scatter, and what to all appears to be our weakness, has proved to be our strength, and has now brought us to the threshold of sovereignty over all the world.
Adapted from an 1864 French satire of Napoleon III entitled A Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montes quieu, the text of The Protocols first appeared around the turn of the 20th century. Its authors, believed to be members of the Russian secret police, attempted to make it appear there was a Jewish plot to undermine the czar. The book's circulation in Russia at that time helped incite murderous pogroms.
Hitler then used The Protocols to indoctrinate Nazi youth. In 1924, his propaganda minister, Joseph Goeb bels, found the tract "modern" and useful, admitting in his diary that he believed in "the intrinsic but not the factual truth of The Protocols."
The Protocols has been repeatedly discredited in Europe, where it originated, including by the London Times, a Swiss court, and an official Russian investigation. In 1964, the Senate Judiciary Committee looked into The Protocols and found it to be a hoax, calling it "crude and vicious nonsense."
Yet Middle Eastern governments have revived The Protocols for their own purposes.
Saudi public high schools now teach The Protocols as historical fact. A tenth grade textbook instructs that "Jews have tried to deny them but there are many proofs of their vera city." It summarizes the purported Jewish conspiracy as aiming to:
1. Undermine the foundation of the existing international community and its systems to enable Zionism to gain sole control over the world. 2. Eliminate Christian na tionalities, religions, and nations in particular. 3. Work to increase the corruption of existing governments in Europe. Zionism believes in the corruption and collapse of these governments. 4. Gain control over the means of publication, propaganda, and newspapers; use gold to incite unrest; and exploit people's desires and spread depravity.
The Sunni extremist group Hamas includes a discussion of The Protocols in its charter:
After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion and so on. Their plan is embodied in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.
Both Saudi textbooks and the Hamas charter give detailed warnings of the "destructive" roles of the Freemasons, as well as the Lions and Rotary clubs, in the Zionist cause as laid out in The Protocols. Both blame this Jewish "agenda" for the French Revolution, World War I, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the Bolshevik Revolution.
In 2002, during Ramadan, when viewership is highest, Egypt aired a 41-part television series, Horseman without a Horse, in which The Protocols is a major plot element. The same year, an article in Egypt's government daily Al-Akhbar explained that the current evils in the world have been unfolding according to the "meticulous and precise plan and time schedule" of The Protocols.
The Protocols is often used to reinforce the blood libel, a medieval myth of Jewish ritual murder and poisoning. In a TV series entitled Al-Shatat, produced by Syria and aired in recent years in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iran, Jews aim to rule the world through a secret government led by the Rothschild family and are depicted making matzo with the blood of Muslim and Christian children.
The state-controlled media of the Middle Eastern countries commonly refer to The Protocols as if it were an authoritative historical document, linking it to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and other current events.
However preposterous, The Protocols is experiencing a resurgence. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened an exhibition on The Protocols in April, finds the trend "dangerous," given the document's "incredible power for Nazis and others who seek to spread hatred of Jews."
Israeli judge Hadassa Ben-Itto comments on this phenomenon in her new legal history, The Lie That Wouldn't Die: "The Protocols, created to serve the powers of darkness at the helm of an empire fast approaching its self-imposed doom, were destined to outlive the [czarist] empire. They would survive to fire the imagination of prejudiced bigots who believed in apocalyptic prophesies."
Arab reactions to Israel's operations in Lebanon have drawn on slogans and images from The Protocols. In a political cartoon from Egypt, a bearded, hook-nosed Jew drenched in blood and standing atop a pile of skulls vies with Uncle Sam for domination of the world. In another, from Bahrain, a snake coiled into a star of David is ready to ensnare Lebanon and Gaza. The "Symbolic Serpent, the symbol of our people" is taken from the third protocol, and is often depicted on the cover of editions of the work.
At a demonstration of mostly Middle Eastern immigrants in Berlin on July 21, protestors chanted, "Israel drinks the blood of our children." Indeed, posters and cartoons from across the Arab world depict Jews in Lebanon eating children. It's only natural, then, that at a recent protest in Amman organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition party in Jordan, thousands of chant ing marchers called on the "beloved" leader of Hezbollah to "hit Haifa and Tel Aviv!"
By deliberately stoking anti-Semitism for decades, Arab leaders have sown expectations among their people that are incompatible with peace in the region. As a first step toward eliminating state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan should publicly debunk The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as the lie that it is and stop foisting this falsehood on their citizens.
Nina Shea is director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House and author of the Center's new study, Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance. Jeanne Hoffman is a student at Ave Maria School of Law and a Center law fellow.