ROOTS OF THE JEWISH POWER MYTH
exists a secret Jewish government which, through a worldwide network of
camouflaged agencies and organizations, controls political parties and
governments, the press and public opinion, banks and economic developments…in
pursuance of an age-old plan and with the single aim of achieving Jewish
domination over the entire world.”
opular stereotypes and fears about Jewish power have deep roots. The millennia-old accusation of Jews as Christ-killers derived much of its plausibility from a belief that Jews were confederates of the Devil. Today, nearly forty years after Vatican II, when Pope Paul VI officially repudiated the deicide myth, fully 37% of adult Americans still believe it. Another 16% say they don’t know or refuse to answer.
Although many Jews trace the origins of the myth of “a Jewish plot to rule the world” to publications such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Henry Ford’s The International Jew, the idea that an all-powerful Jewish cabal is behind world events was originally popularized by opponents of the French Revolution who spread the word that a sinister network of Freemasons, secret societies, and Jews was behind the promulgation of Enlightenment ideas that threatened the absolute authority of both Church and State. There was an element of truth to these accusations: both the deists of Freemasonry and Adam Weishaupt’s Illuminati (an 18th-century group dedicated to promoting the utopian ideals of Enlightenment philosophy and challenging the entrenched power of conservative Jesuits in Bavarian society) favored reason over divine decrees, denounced autocratic kings, called for the abolition of witchcraft trials, and criticized the concept of papal infallibility.
In 1806, when the Jews of France were summoned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and asked to pledge their allegiance to the nation in exchange for the privileges and rights of citizenship, the “Great Sanhedrin” (as the meeting was called) lent credence to the antisemitic musings of a French Jesuit named Abbe Augustin Barruel, who believed that Jewish emancipation was the first step toward Christian slavery. Some nine years earlier, Barruel had issued a five-volume work which purported to expose the medieval Order of Templars, a secret society that Barruel accused of seeking to depose the pope, destroy all monarchies, promote anarchy, preach unrestricted liberty, and establish one-world government. Barruel’s text had scarcely mentioned Jews, but in the wake of Napoleon’s Sanhedrin, Barruel reconstructed his conspiracy theory around the central fiction of Jewish dominance, and the modern myth of an all-powerful Judeo-Masonic-Illuminati conspiracy was born.
A revival of Barruel’s slanders appeared a hundred years later in the form of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903)—a forged document purporting to be the verbatim record of a Jewish plot to rule the world by accumulating wealth, instigating wars, controlling the press, promoting economic chaos, undermining Christianity, destroying private property, and fomenting revolution. First published in The Banner, a St. Petersburg newspaper edited by the notorious antisemite P. A. Krushevan, it would take another fifteen years before it won its greatest audience. When Bolsheviks murdered the family of Czar Nicholas II in 1918, defenders of the imperial family cited the bogus text as a convenient—and successful—tool to blame the Jews for the assassinations.
During the first half
of the twentieth century, the myth about Jews’ ceaseless quest for
power would explode in popularity, mostly as a result of the antisemitic
campaign propagated by automotive titan Henry Ford. In his newspaper,
The Dearborn Independent, Ford published a series of ninety-one
antisemitic articles that were, in effect, a reconstituted, Americanized
version of the Protocols. Many of the pieces especially targeted
the “morally corrupting” role of Jews in Hollywood. The first
twenty installments were compiled into a 235-page paperback published
in 1920 as The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem—a
book which would go on to sell more than 500,000 copies in the United
States, not including the KKK’s reprinted and bound edition and
sixteen foreign-language editions. And it would lead to the passage of
the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed strict quotas on Jews and other
immigrants deemed “unhygienic,” with deadly results: after
the rise of Hitler, many Jews who sought refuge from Nazi Germany were
denied a safe haven in America. It didn’t seem to matter that in
1921 the Times of London had exposed the Protocols as
a politically motivated fabrication or that Ford himself (faced with a
potent Jewish boycott) acknowledged in a June 30, 1927 letter to American
Jewish Committee leader Louis Marshall that the Protocols were
“gross forgeries.” The belief that Jews were engaged in a
secret cabal to rule the world had become common knowledge among millions
of people around the world. Ford was rewarded for his accomplishments
by Adolf Hitler, who bestowed the Grand Cross of the German Eagle upon
him in July 1938 on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. Ford gladly
accepted the honor.
Copyright © 2003, Union of American Hebrew Congregations