The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – Why the Jews?

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: 120 years of Antisemitic Propaganda

Panel Summary – Why the Jews?

The first panel of day one of the symposium on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, moderated by Dr. Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Center for Jewish Civilization, and featuring Aaron Keyak, Ira Forman, Pamela Nadell, and Izabella Tabarovsky, asked and answered: “Why the Jews?” Panelists traced the deep tradition of antisemitism in the American and global consciousness and unpacked its prejudices, ranging from Jews as scapegoats to the notion of antisemites’ punching up’ in the fight against the dominant, corrupt power of the Jews. Antisemitism has always simmered under the surface and has surfaced through new media innovations: Henry Ford with non-copyrighted printed material, Father Coughlin with a radio audience a fourth the size of the U.S. population, and antisemites now, emboldened through the amplifying power of social media. Yet the recent normalization of antisemitism – such as the 2017 Unite the Right rally or Kanye West’s Twitter rants – is a worrying trend. The panelists also sought to define what antisemitism is, examining it through its different manifestations: fears over Jewish world control from the Protocols, racial antisemitism from Nazi Germany, and Christian antisemitism from the New Testament. But does it matter? Our panelists wrestled with the complexity of the topic and the difficulty of defining ‘the Jews’ as a singular entity, noting that antisemites often engage in larger-scale attacks against vague groups of targets. Disagreements over the definition of antisemitism can also get in the way of combating it: our panelists discussed how an antisemitic action is an antisemitic action, whether committed by Jews in Israel or by a hate group standing over Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. Keyak, Forman, Nadell, and Tabarovsky also discussed how to move forward, starting with addressing the false conflation between antisemitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – an end to conflict in the region will not lead to the end of antisemitism or terrorism, as added by Hoffman. Perhaps we can impose a social cost on antisemitism, making it no longer acceptable to express such hate; perhaps we are in a better position to fight against it with dedicated government support, resources, and access.

Notable Quotes

Aaron Keyak – “Antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine in the fight for democracy. What happens when the antisemite think that the Jew is behind the media, behind our banks, behind our government – that these actors, these leaders in the political realm or the financial realm or in media – are being controlled by the Jew, it’s destabilizing to a society. You don’t think that the leaders are accountable to you or to anyone else and are simply being controlled by this nefarious’ other,” the Jew. And once you believe that these leaders can be held accountable to the voters or other modes of accountability, you don’t believe in your democracy anymore. the antisemite, fundamentally, in the way that they see the world, does not have confidence in the way that normal people would look at democracy.”

Ira Forman – “As we think about combating antisemitism, we should understand we are not n the business of ending antisemitism. It has been around for thousands of years, and it’s going to be around well after I’m gone, well after my grandchildren are gone, and well after my great-great-great-grandchildren are gone. This isn’t rocket science. This is just experience, and it’s not pessimistic either because if it is impossible for us to eradicate, then I think there’s a good metaphor. It’s a faucet. The faucet has been turned on, and what we can do is turn it down to a drip. And that is our job and our mission.”

Pamela Nadell – “Does it really matter that we define the Jews? I don’t see any reason – first, it’s impossible to define Jews, but most importantly, it doesn’t really matter to the antisemites. They don’t define the Jews; they use it as a broad category as a way of attacking all sorts of other things and attacking civilization.”

Izabella Tabarovsky – “We often hear that antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not the same. In principle, they don’t have to be. But in practice, and this is what history teaches us, most of the time, they are. They are the same in the most critical way possible because both lead to antisemitic outcomes for Jews. There is a reason for that, and the reason is that the kind of anti-Zionism that we hear today that dominates the discourse today on the left very much relies on the tropes and ideas of antisemitic conspiracy theory as laid out in the Protocols of Zion.”

Speaker Biographies

Dr. Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University

Bruce Hoffman is the Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been studying terrorism and insurgency for four decades. He is a tenured professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, where he is the director of the Center for Jewish Civilization. Hoffman was previously director of both the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies program from 2010-2017.

Aaron Keyak, U.S. Department of State

Aaron Keyak currently serves as the Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the U.S. Department of State. In helping lead this office, he works to advance U.S. foreign policy to counter antisemitism throughout the world. Deputy Special Envoy Keyak is an experienced leader and interfaith coalition builder who has previously held senior roles advising members of Congress, the Obama Administration, and the Biden-Harris Administration transition team.

Ira Forman, Georgetown University

Ira Forman is a Senior Fellow on Antisemitism at the Center for Jewish Civilization and a Senior Fellow at the Moment Institute. In the fall of 2018, he was appointed Senior Advisor on Antisemitism at Human Rights First. Mr. Forman served as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism from 2013-2017. From 2011-2012 he served as the Jewish Outreach Director for the Obama for America campaign. He also served for nearly 15 years as the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC).

Pamela Nadell, American University

Pamela S. Nadell holds the Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History and is Director of the Jewish Studies Program. A specialist in American Jewish history and women’s history, she teaches a variety of courses in Jewish civilization. Her awards include A.U.’s highest faculty award, Scholar/Teacher of the Year (2007). Pamela Nadell’s books include America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today (W.W. Norton, 2019), named Jewish Book of the Year by the Jewish Book Council. Past president of the Association for Jewish Studies, Nadell’s other titles include Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women’s Ordination, 1889–1985 (Beacon Press, 1998).

Izabella Tabarovsky, Wilson Center

Izabella Tabarovsky is the Kennan Institute Senior Advisor on Regional Partnerships and Programming. She oversees the Institute’s regional partnerships and programming, its independent journalism initiatives, and its Historical Memory initiative. She manages the Kennan Institute’s Russia File, Focus Ukraine, and In Other Words blogs, and co-hosts its Russia File podcast. She has coordinated Kennan’s U.S.-Israel working group on Russia in the Middle East, Kennan’s alumni conferences, and other initiatives and events. Her research expertise includes politics of historical memory, Russia’s independent media, the Holocaust, Stalin’s repressions, and Soviet and contemporary left antisemitism.