Mr. Putin: Denounce This Vile Russian Hoax
There is a new tourist attraction in Moscow. The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opened a few days ago. It cost 50 million dollars to build, with the funds mostly coming from Russian oligarchs. Israeli President Simon Peres attended the opening. It's all part of a larger campaign on the part of the Vladimir Putin regime to invite Jews back to Russia.
The very term "pogrom" is uniquely Russian. Over the past 125 years, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled sequential and systemic persecution under the Tsars, under the Bolsheviks, and even after the demise of the Soviet Union. Russia has a deeply engrained culture of anti-Semitism. In fact, since 1989, that nation's Jewish population has dwindled by more than 350,000. According to the New York Times, as of 2010, the Jewish percentage of the total Russian population was 0.11 percent (approximately 150,000).
Lost in all the PR hype about how Russia is now so welcoming to Jews is the failure to take historic blame for one of the great crimes of the past century -- Russia's role in the creation of a spurious document called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This Russian forgery has fueled everything from that nation's pogroms to the Holocaust (Hitler loved the Protocols and believed every word), and it even feeds the current-day hatred of the Jews by Islamists in the Middle East and anti-Semites worldwide.
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has long encouraged the distribution of the notorious publication. And these days, talking heads on Egyptian television, now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood in the sad wake of the ill-named Arab Spring, regularly refer to the Protocols as undisputed fact.
Mr. Putin's regime consistently refuses to denounce the infamous forgery as a Russian creation. As recently as March 2011, Russian prosecutors determined that the "early 19th-century document depicting a Jewish bid for global supremacy does not contain xenophobic content."
If the Russian president is really interested in creating a kinder, gentler Russia when it comes to the Jewish people, then he should man up and acknowledge the Russian roots of this sinister lie. He should also let the world know that such a document cannot and should not be trusted.
Not holding my breath.
The year is 1898, and Nicholas II rules a Russia that's beginning to experience revolutionary stirrings. The tsar is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and tends to be easily led by strong people around him. He takes incremental steps away from his nation's feudal past, but some in his court are alarmed. Evil men began to seek a way to short-circuit these liberalizing influences.
If only they could convince the tsar that the voices of change he's listening to are motivated by something other than the best interests of Russia...but how? It was in this environment that the greatest of all anti-Semitic lies was born. A threatening conspiracy would be manufactured -- one that would bring Nicholas to his senses -- and the Jews to their knees.
Mathieu Golovinski was living in Parisian exile at the time. Though he was Russian, having been born in the Simbirsk region in 1865, he was forced to flee after repeated clashes with Russian authorities, usually having to do with his tendency to fabricate documents and evidence in legal matters. He was a master of spin, innuendo, and dirty tricks. He was also very skilled in the arts of forgery and plagiarism.
Oh, and he had once worked for the Okhrana -- the tsar's secret police.
Golovinski was approached by representatives from the tsar's inner circle about creating a convincing anti-Jewish legend. They needed a narrative -- one that would be seen as proof of a sinister plot behind the winds of change beginning to blow in Russia. He was commissioned to fabricate the evidence.
He came across an old book, written in 1864 by an anti-monarchist named Maurice Joly. It was entitled Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu and was written as a thinly disguised attack on Napoleon III's rule in France. The French government suppressed the book, and the writer was imprisoned. He committed suicide in 1878.
Golovinski decided to "borrow" from this obscure book, changing some of its cosmetics and phrasing. It would be recast, using Joly's fictional dialogue for a model, as the actual deliberations of a secret cabal of Jews bent on taking over the world. When the fake was finished, it was spirited back to St. Petersburg. Now the only thing needed was a way to get it before the ruler of the realm.
Enter the other religious zealot in and around the court of the tsar.
When most think of religious influences around Nicholas II, the focus is usually on Grigori Rasputin, the mad monk who haunted that scene beginning about 1905. But often overlooked, and certainly more ominous as far as long-term impact on the world is concerned, is the influence of his cultic contemporary, Sergei Alexandrovich Nilus. He was a writer on religious matters and a self-styled spiritual mystic.
He is also the man who first published Golovinski's sinister forgery.
Initially placing the Protocols as a chapter in one of his books, Dr. Nilus saw to it that the potentate was fully briefed and convinced about the purported Jewish threat. And like Rasputin, he also had the ear of the ruler's wife -- so the tsar, never a man to have his own firm opinions, fell prey to the lie. And in the days following his nation's defeat at the hands of the Japanese, circumstances were ripe for the rotten fruit of a compelling scapegoat.
On January 9, 1905, the tsar's troops opened fire on protesters who peacefully marched near the palace in St. Petersburg. This would become known as Bloody Sunday. The tsar and his inner circle saw in the Protocols the real reason for the unrest -- it was a big Jewish plot to overthrow the monarchy.
So it began -- the gargantuan conspiratorial lie that has reared its hideous head time and time again over the past one hundred-plus years. Jewish plotters were blamed for The Great War (1914-1918). Then in its aftermath, when Germany was struggling to recover from defeat, the big lie was discovered by the greatest demagogue of the day, Adolf Hitler. By the time the future German dictator was sent to prison in 1923, he was well-versed in the Protocols and drew significantly from the forgery as he wrote his own delusional tome, Mein Kampf.
And the biggest publishing hoax of the past one hundred years is not going away. Islamists are using it to fan contemporary flames of hatred. It's arguable that there are more copies of the lie-laden text available today than ever before. Hamas, the group now ruling Gaza, owes article 32 of its charter to these long ago discredited writings when it says things like: "Zionist scheming has no end[.] ... Their scheme has been laid out in The Protocols of Zion."
If Vladimir Putin and Russia are serious about stemming the tide of anti-Semitism, they should take historic national blame for The Protocols and dedicate a big section of the new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center to exposing the big lie and denouncing any person or nation that actually believes it.
David R. Stokes is a minister, historian, author, broadcaster, and columnist. His new novel, Camelot's Cousin, is an espionage thriller. David's personal website is www.davidrstokes.com. On Twitter he is @DavidRStokes.