Nearly 100 years after it was first published, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery continues to make waves in Russia.
The latest news came recently, when an Israeli judge presented to a major Russian library a book that exposes the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as a fraud.
“The Lie That Doesn’t Want to Die” was written by Israeli judge Hadassah Ben-Itto, and later translated into Russian.
The translation couldn’t have come at a more propitious moment.
The “Protocols,” which purports to reveal a Jewish plot to control the world, has become increasingly popular in Russia in recent years.
During the past year, Jewish activists in Russia have repeatedly accused the Russian Orthodox Church, one of the most influential bodies in the country, of permitting distribution and propaganda of the Protocols in its parishes.
Our Orthodox priest recently recommended the “Protocols” to his congregation as an authentic and instructive document, Pyotr Grigoryev, a Moscow university student, told JTA.
Metropolitan Kirill, the Moscow patriarchate’s chief of foreign relations, refused comment when asked about the issue recently.
In the fall of 1903, the “Protocols,” ostensibly revealing a global Jewish plot to destroy Christian civilization and establish a world government, were published in a St. Petersburg newspaper by Sergey Nilus, a xenophobic Russian Orthodox author.
“It is a very roughly done” forgery, Alexander Lokshin, a Moscow-based researcher specializing in the history of Russian Jewry, told JTA. “But it came at the right moment: Russia was entering a period of upheavals and hard times and a regular scapegoat was needed. Therefore it became so popular.”
Alfred Rosenberg, the Russian-born chief Nazi ideologist, brought the “Protocols” to Germany in 1919, and the book soon became one of the basic documents in Hitler’s anti-Semitic propaganda. The Nazis eventually made the text mandatory school reading.
The “Protocols” were banned in the Soviet Union, and surfaced again only during the Gorbachev era.
Even today, not all Russians are ready to admit that the publication, which over the last century has come to be seen as archetypal anti-Semitic writing, was just a fraud.
The document still provokes emotional reactions in contemporary Russia. Not only marginal xenophobic groups, but even some mainstream bodies publish or use the “Protocols” in their propaganda.
A Russian Orthodox publishing house in Yekaterinburg recently printed a book that contained the “Protocols” as an appendix.
Ironically, Yekaterinburg is a place strongly connected with the book’s history.
The July 1918 killing of the family of Nicholas II by Yekaterinburg-based Bolsheviks brought a wave of anti-Semitism and made the “Protocols” popular in pro-czarist circles in the following years.
Eighty years later, the growing popularity of the “Protocols” is being resisted.
Mikhail Oshtrakh, a Jewish community leader, has protested to local and Moscow prosecutors and other officials over what he calls anti-Semitic propaganda in churches.
Last December, regional prosecutors unexpectedly opened a criminal investigation into the local diocese’s publication and distribution of hate literature, including the “Protocols.”
But Oshtrakh, the representative of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, told JTA that he doesn’t expect anybody to be charged or punished in the case.
“I think they will soon close the case. All local media are defending the diocese,” he said, adding that he would be happy to receive an official apology from the diocese or the Moscow Patriarchate.
Such an apology would help destroy the foundations of Orthodox anti-Semitism in Russia, he said.
Yet Church leaders refuse to oppose anti-Semitism publicly, and local Jews are unwilling to enter a conflict with the powerful Orthodox Church, he said.
Oshtrakh and his small organization appear to be almost alone in the struggle — unsupported by other Jewish groups in Yekaterinburg, and even annoying some Jewish activists by their militant stance.
Zelik Ashkenazi, the region’s chief rabbi, repeatedly has told the media that there are no problems in relations between the Jewish community and the regional Orthodox diocese.
A local TV channel controlled by the regional administration cited Ashkenazi’s comments when it attacked Oshtrakh recently, saying that he is fanning Jewish-Christian conflict to get grants from international Jewish organizations.
According to the UCSJ, a local TV station earlier this month broadcast an interview with a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Avraham, who accused Oshtrakh of creating a scandal for his own advantage.
Father Abraham contrasted Ostrakh’s position to that of Ashkenazi, who, Father Abraham claimed, has not complained at all about distribution of the “Protocols” and who has publicly criticized Oshtrakh’s stand.
Jewish observers say it is possible that with regional elections approaching, the broadcasts were ordered by local officials to shore up the governor’s image as a defender of the Russian Orthodox Church in the eyes of the Kremlin, which many believe pressured local officials to open the case.
Despite the Kremlin’s apparent efforts to get rid of the anti-Semitic taint, the last chapter of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” has yet to be written.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.