A Rumor About the Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion, Stephen Eric Bronner, Oxford University Press 2003. 177 pp., Notes, index. $12.95 [ISBN # 0-19-516-956-5]
Reviewed by: Wilfredo Amr Ruiz
"Criticism of any work of political theory depends upon the ability to draw lines, no matter how blurry, between fact and falsehood or authenticity and inauthenticity, consistency and tautology" (Bronner, p. 131)
"And argue not with the people of the Scripture, unless it be in a way that is better... " (Qur'an 29:46)
" There is no substitute for an open dialogue, a willingness to deal with the genuine criticism, or an ability to justify claims by making reference to empirical reality. " (Bronner, p. 131)
"And say: `Truth has arrived and Falsehood perished: For falsehood is bound to perish."
"Say the truth has arrived, and falsehood neither creates anything new, nor restores anything. " (Qur'an 34:39)
The worldwide known Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an evident forgery, has carried and still carries today a considerable weight in the historical and contemporary analysis of the antisemitism. Stephen Eric Bronner's book: A Rumor a About Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and The Protocols of Zion, exposes the author's thesis on the origins, sources, development, `consumption', applications, influence, effects, and present survival of the forever enigmatic and mysterious Protocols. This book is thus, an exceptional approach in the study of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion since it not only brings up to discussion the theories of its origins, distribution and their historical effects degenerating in the Holocaust, but also goes a step ahead in analyzing the present day force of the ever transforming purposes behind them.
In what appeared to be contradictory, Bronner qualified the Protocols as dead documents: "... The Protocols is no more a living document than Mein Kampf" (p. 7), but immediately recognized their present force and potential for resurgence: "Nevertheless, if political antisemitism is now mostly latent, it might still resurface and take dangerous forms." (p. 7). Bronner recognized antisemitism as a living present danger and in his book he aims to expose this by first providing the reader with a well summarized historical tradition of the Protocols, following with an analysis of its contemporary potential force and resurgence. The author presented on his study an in depth analysis of the phenomena of how the Protocols, even as a publicly recognized falsehood, have had not only the historical effects and marked influence in paving the way to the Holocaust, but also how they still influence the contemporary antisemitic thought.
In the fourth chapter of the book, Bronner brings the story behind the fabrication of the Protocols. Its origin is presented in the book as a forgery created around 1894 through 1899. The Protocols were a product of a plagiarized publication: A Dialogue in Hell: Conversations between Machiavelli and Montesquieu about Power and Right by Maurice Joly (p. 83), involving a perversion of its political intent (p. 85). It was first published in Russian language in 1903 with a cloudy origin as to its author. Bronner attributes its creation to the Okhrna (Russia's secret police) (p.1). On its origins the Protocols was used to blame the Jews and their `allies', the Freemasons, for the Revolution in Russia. (p. 1), expressing fear about the growing influence of socialism upon Jewish organizations in the country. (p. 89). On the environment at its origins Bronner described: "Judeophobia was, in short an important part of the political climate when the Protocols first appeared..." (p.89).
On the Preface to the paperback edition Bronner `prescribed' the medicine to counteract the ill symptoms of antisemitism: a devoutness to progress in a liberal democracy with its accompanying elements. Bronner recognized that antisemitism can only be `treated' but not cured:
"But it was not meant to suggest that progress will somehow magically make prejudice disappear: only that a cosmopolitan, liberal and socialist, world view is the most appropriate way of fighting it." (p. ix)
From my own Muslim perspective it also caught my attention that, although treated relatively light and superficially, in an obvious honest response to the historical reality, Muslim antisemitism appeared to be overly highlighted in the Preface. Bronner's multiple references and conclusions over this specific topic lacked of the overwhelming bibliographical references made in the annotations of the book with respect to the rest of the contents of his book. The rise of antisemitism on Muslim countries in response to governments' policies, publications, and other media influences coming from countries like Syria, Iraq, and Egypt was poorly referenced and sustained by Bronner.
On the other hand, the author made a very accurate approach to the study of the Protocols as he jumped over its fraudulent origins and contents in a very welcomed fast pace; thus moving the Protocol's untruthfulness to a lower importance status. "Whether the Protocols was proved a forgery or not ultimately made little difference to future antisemites who, while distributing the pamphlet, often openly admitted its questionable origins". (p. 122). Bronner classified antisemitism as an act of faith and focused then on the active role of Protocols into sustaining his theory of the active role that the Protocols played on the antisemitic thought development:
"But simply disproving the various falsehoods of works like the Protocols is insufficient. Antisemitism is ultimately, in practical political terms, a matter of faith: arguments become legitimate only insofar as they support the claim made on faith. Antisemitism presupposes a belief in the overwhelming power of an evil Jew. The Protocols cast a special light on it: the fanatical antisemite turns the Jew in more than a scapegoat. The Jew is responsible because the antisemite is not" (p. 8)
On the second chapter of the book Bronner provided a well-grouped summarized collection of exerts of the Protocols. The concise summary brings to the attention of the reader the very nature of the Judeophobia stating, among other allegations that:
"Through the press we have gained the power to influence while remaining ourselves in the shade." (p. 13); "All the wheels of the machinery of all States go by the force of the engine, which is in our hands, ... Gold." (p. 16); W shall soon establish huge monopolies, ...(p. 17); Around us again will be a whole constellations of bankers, industrialists, capitalists, and the main thing - millionaires, because in substance everything will be settled by the question of figures." (p. 19); We must have everybody vote... (p. 20).
As grounds to his further discussion on the influence of the Protocols, on the Third Chapter Bronner presented a discussion of the varieties of antisemitism. Bronner presented the Jews as having being constant victims of prejudice throughout history. Initially subjected to religious intolerance, presented as Christ's murderers. (p.34). Later during late 18th and most of the 19th century Jews would experience rishes, a social form of prejudice connoting a form of resentment and jealousy over their ability to make good on the opportunities offered them by capitalism. Following, on late nineteenth to early twentieth century a political expression of prejudice arouse: antisemitism; Bronner followed to claim that it is only then that the Jews would be: "...popularly identified as a race, feared as an international threat to Christian civilization, and finally subjected to systematic genocide." (p.34). It was in this stage were the Protocols made their entry and pounded their full weight into what degenerated later into the unfortunate Holocaust.
On its fifth Chapter Bronner exposed the career and dissemination of the Protocols as well as their influence and connection the political movements after World War I. Even though the Protocols were given a heavy weight in developing a fascist world view, the author recognized that: "The Protocols was, by itself, insufficient for the formation of a new fascist worldview." ( p.101). Bronner wisely subtracted some weight from the Protocols recognizing that it was not by itself the only and sufficient cause of the creation and development of the fascist worldview .
On his final chapter the author used the Protocols to bring up the current status of antisemitism. The author made a balance of his fatalistic view on the effects of the Protocols and qualified today's antisemitisim as: "...having become like a background noise, an incessant and irritating hum, that should not be mistaken for the real music." (p. 133). He also recognized that: "The destruction of fascism initiated what has become a strengthened commitment to the values of a liberal state..." (p.134). Outstandingly Bronner logically simplified the `reasoning' behind antisemitism: "Antisemitism is the stupid answer to a serious question: how does history operate behind our backs?" (p. 140). Bronner reminded his readers that the Protocol's issue is a universal problem and not one exclusively pertaining Jews: "Protocols was directed not simply against Jews, but rather the progressive political legacy of the Enlightment and modernity in general" (p.147). As such the Protocols came to be and still is the voice of those fearing that of what Enlightment encompasses: social liberties, cosmopolitanism, and rationalism. Interestingly he encapsulated those advocates of today's antisemitic policies as `losers' living in a state of paranoia and prejudice, "...victims of a self chosen blindness."(p. 146)
Bronner interestingly warned about the fear of today's fundamentalists and ultra nationalists and relate