for National Geographic News
Five years after 9/11, lingering conspiracy theories hold that Jews planned the attacks. The charges' staying power, though, is nothing compared to that of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The century-old text has been discredited many times over its hundred-plus-year history. Yet even today the tale finds willing believers among those who oppose Zionismthe idea that Jews should have a homeland in Palestine, an idea that was fulfilled in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
How can one piece of propaganda endure for so long?
(Related feature: The Lost Gospel of Judas.)
The Protocols tell the tale of a secret plot in which a shadowy and powerful cabal of Jewish leaders and Freemasons sets out to dominate the world. The text purports to be the minutes of secret meetings held in Switzerland at the time of the First Zionist Congress in 1897.
The book outlines the group's endeavors to conquer the globe by manipulating the media and the global economy, promoting religious conflicts, and supporting socialism.
A Web search reveals thousands of Web sites with Protocols-related content. Most refute the texts and offer ample evidence of their fraudulent nature. But plenty of others exist to propagate the myth.
Daniel Greene is the curator of an exhibition on The Protocols currently at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
"The Protocols is a piece of propaganda that was useful before the Nazis, useful to the Nazis, and is still useful today, unfortunately, in spreading hatred of Jews," Greene said.
"It's interesting, because The Protocols have been exposed as a fraud so many times, and yet it doesn't matter, because it still works as propaganda. It doesn't matter to some people if propaganda is true or falseas long as it's useful."
The infamous writings first appeared in 1903 in the Russian newspaper Znamia (Banner). They are generally believed to have been the work of Tsar Nicholas II's secret police, though other theories exist.
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