Monday, December 08, 2014

Some hoaxes are considered important, and some are not. Why?

We haven't heard from "StormCloudsGathering" for a while, but the above video is worth your attention. It seems that there is a document which supposedly proves that the Palestinians have a written policy of using human shields. This video makes the case that the document is a forgery.

There is a special irony at play here. I've been reading up (yet again) on the origins of another forgery -- perhaps the most infamous forgery of all, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For many years, the standard guide to the Protocols has been Norman Cohn's superb Warrant for Genocide, first published in 1967.

Lately, I've been reading what some consider the new standard work on the Protocols hoax, Hadassa Ben-Itto's The Lie that Wouldn't Die, published in 2005. Compared to Cohn's work, this book is awful.

Yes, Ben-Itto (a judge in Israel) has the big picture right. She also gets many small details wrong. That's not what bothers me. What bothers me is the utter lack of scholarship.

No footnotes. In a 377 page book of history, there are no freakin' footnotes!

God, that sort of thing is frustrating. True, some French historians avoid footnotes, but those writers are usually pretty good about working their sources into the main text. Ben-Itto doesn't do that.

That's not the only problem. For no good reason, the book continually bounces back and forth across time periods. I don't mind when a movie like Momento plays narrative games, but I think that works about history should be linear: A leads to B leads to C, and so on.

Worse, Ben-Itto engages in mind-reading...
The minister of finance, Sergei Iulievich Witte, read with growing concern the typed booklet that had been hand delivered to his office. Normally he would have ignored it as he had no interest in anonymous documents...
The narrative proceeds in that fashion for quite a while. Is this a history book or a novel? How could Ben-Itto possibly know what Count Witte was thinking and feeling?

I mention all of this (in part) because the slovenliness of this work is also apparent in a lot of other books I've been reading lately, on all sorts of topics. There has been a general lowering of standards. Norman Cohn and his predecessor, Henry Bernstein, would swivel in their graves if they knew what passes for academic rigor in the 21st century.

I could go on for quite a while about the flaws of Ben-Itto's work, but such a critique will have to wait for another time. Right now, I'd like to draw your attention to a certain irony.

The Lie That Wouldn't Die has a preface by Lord Woolf:
This is a book you will find difficult to put down. When you do, you will be amazed that it is possible that there are those who have so little regard for truth that they can still publish the Protocols without placing at the start and foot of each page in red ink 'This volume is a forgery, its contents are lies....'
I'd have preferred a semi-colon instead of that last comma, but the point is well-taken. Even so, I must ask: How can one comdemn the Protocols hoax while excusing the forgery exposed in the above video?

A cognate question: How can one condemn the Protocols hoax while excusing the many deceptions exposed in the books of former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky? Isn't it true that the very motto of Mossad is "By way of deception..."?

Another point: Lord Woolf speaks about the problem posed by the people who "still publish" the Protocols. Who are these people? Is it really true that the hoax receives wide distribution in today's world?

Books and articles about the Protocols leave the reader with the impression that the work is almost inescapable, that gentiles everywhere tote the thing around with them.

Now, I can speak intelligently only about the publication history of that work in the English-speaking world. Readers who do a lot of foreign travel may be able to educate me about the availability and popularity of the book in other cultures.

But before the advent of the internet, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was -- in my experience -- little more than a rumor. Sure, I could find books about the book. I could find books condemning the book. But I never saw the book itself. Widespread? Nonsense. It was invisible!

As you know, I've spent much of my life in used book stores and university libraries. In the early 1970s, I read Cohn, and learned that the author of the hoax remained unidentified. (At least, Cohn couldn't identify him in 1967; we now have good reason to believe that the culprit was a Russian named Golivinski.) Intrigued by the challenge of identifying the forger, I went looking for a copy of the Protocols.

(I had to. How can one hope to identify the author of a text without possessing a copy of the text?)

There were no copies to be found in all of Los Angeles. Not in the UCLA library, not in the great downtown library, not in any used book store. I was told that I would have to ask the Library of Congress to send a copy via interlibrary loan. (Which they would do as soon as I squared some longstanding library fines, which were usually pretty steep!)

Eventually, I discovered (in the CSUN liberary) Bernstein's excellent 1935 volume The Truth About the Protocols, which includes the full texts of the Protocols and the works from which the forger cribbed. (Note to Ben-Itto: That's scholarship.) In a strange irony, Bernstein had preserved the full work, which otherwise was unavailable.

In the early 1990s, a crackpot named Milton William Cooper included the Protocols as part of his collection of crank materials. Some of you may know about this compendium: It's titled Behold a Pale Horse. Cooper told his readers that the work is really not about Jews: It's actually about space aliens. Or maybe the Illuminati. (Cooper said a lot of things like that. The man was a total loon.)

Cooper's version of the Protocols was photocopied from Bernstein's book, replete with Bernstein's critical footnotes. If Bernstein had not published the thing, Cooper probably would have been as unsuccessful as I was at finding a copy of the Protocols.

To this day, I have never seen or held in my hands a "stand alone" physical copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Of course, these days, you can find it on the internet. You can find anything on the internet -- including the most horrific porn imaginable.

Yet Ben-Itto leaves her readers with the impression that the Protocols are feakin' everywhere and always have been. Her book, and other books about the Protocols hoax, convey the impression that generations of gentile children have grown up with the thing. They kept it by their beds, right next to Dr. Suess and the Brothers Grimm.

And that, my friends, is the real reason why some people criticize Israel. It has nothing to do with anything Israel has actually done. It has nothing to do with the Nakba. No no no. Critics of Israel were seduced into their evil ways by reading the Protocols -- the inescapable, omni-present, ubiquitous Protocols.

Here's the first of five big questions for my readers: Have you ever seen a freestanding "hard" copy of the Protocols? Ever? Anywhere?

(Bernstein's book doesn't count. As noted above, Cooper says that the Protocols is really about space aliens. So that doesn't count either.)

My next question: Have you ever met anyone who thought that the Protocols was real?

I haven't. And as you know, I've met a lot of freaky people in my time. I've met people who believe in UFOs and the Illuminati and Goat Man. I've met people who believe that Charlie Manson is innocent. I've even met someone who thinks that Cutthroat Island is a really good movie. But in all these decades, I have never met a single person who thinks that the Protocols is anything but a hoax.

My third and fourth questions: In your estimation, how many people have been exposed to the (probably forged) document discussed in the above video? How many people would be inclined to accept that document at face value?

My fifth question: Why are some political hoaxes considered really, really important while others are thought to be inconsequential?

No, I'm not saying that the Protocols have always been inconsequential. I know the history: In the first four decades of the 20th century, the book had a very powerful and malefic influence. But now? I question the proposition that the book has any real influence in the modern world. In the English-speaking world, Pyotr Ratchkovski's monster child is no longer a real threat. It's a ghost. A ghost who can't even say boo.

And yet: In today's world, the intelligence services of various nations perpetrate all sorts of hoaxes. Those are important. One of the purposes of this blog is to identify those hoaxes.

One final point. In her author's foreword, Ben-Itto writes:
I belong to those who believe that lies and libels that set up a group of people as scapegoats, hate targets, potential victims of murder and extermination, should not be protected as free speech. This book challenges those who disagree with my view to present a viable alternative.
There are a lot of people in Israel using exterminationist, racist language against Arabs. Will Ben-Itto seek to deprive those hatemongers of their right to free speech? Or will she rationalize their hate-filled words?

Frankly, I suspect that she would prefer to categorize the video embedded above as unprotected speech.

And I can guess what she would say about my right to free speech.
"Have you ever met anyone who thought that the Protocols was real?"

Well, yeah. Of course, they would have been more believable as a character from 'Slacker' than one from 'The Bourne Enigma,' but they honestly believed the Protocols were for real. And I've certainly come across quite a few online who believed.

No, I've never seen an actual copy of the protocols. My first encounter with it was on the internet, from someone discussing it and showing some of the content. That person was convinced it was real, and that it was exactly what it says it is. I've found others on the internet who agree it's a hoax, but feel it was obviously created by someone who knows what the elite have planned for the world (or, as you mention, what aliens have planned, or shape shifting 4th dimensional creature, or whatever). I haven't actually met any of these people in person, but they certainly exist. Of course, I was 32 years old when I first read about it, and I had Jewish friends as did my brother (nearly all his friends were Jewish, now that I think about it) growing up in the 70's and 80's. Yet I never heard any mention of the thing, not even my whole 4 years in college (where I spent a lot of time in libraries doing religion research). I'm not sure any of those people knew about it either, until they got on the internet. As you say, I think in the early part of the 20th century it was much more well known, but by mid-century I think most people had forgotten it or never heard of it. Except Israel, and a few kooks.
Actually, Gus, I guess I should say that I DID once meet a Protocols believer. I met Cooper. Of course, that was in 1989, before he published his book or latched onto the Protocols. We did not exchange very many words; the perfume of psychosis surrounding that man made me feel disinclined to stay within his company.
Yes, I have seen phpycical copies of the book and have seen people reading it (them). I was a cab driver in Texas in the late 90s and once as I was walking back to my cab at the airport, Ibsaw an Arab driver reading it. I did a double--triple!--take. Over the next few weeks I saw other drivers reading the book....
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