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.”
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.
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.