THE LIE THAT WOULDN'T DIE
by Hadassa Ben-Itto
Vallentine Mitchell, £16.99
When leaving the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London last week, Judge Hadassa Ben-Itto was confronted with a display highlighting Edmund Burke’s famous quote: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ It is a sentiment that sums up the past 14 years of her life.
In 1991, Judge Ben-Itto was one of Israel’s most senior judges – sitting as an acting justice of the Supreme Court – when she surprised the legal establishment by stepping down. She was 65, still five years away from retirement. Her motive was a desire to write an accessible history of one of the most pernicious and enduring libels against the Jewish people – the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a French edition pictured top right), which purports to be an authentic document setting out Jewish plans to dominate the world.
It took six years of travelling around the globe to piece together the story and her book has since been published in seven languages. The eighth, the English version, was launched last week in London and includes a preface from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf. The ninth will come out in Spain next month. A documentary is also being filmed.
Speaking to the Gazette before addressing the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism, Judge Ben-Itto says she is firmly with Burke – and she contends that one person can make a difference if they think something is wrong.
As an example, she says that when her book was published in Russia, where the protocols originated exactly 100 years ago, it was the first time the country’s newspapers had printed the truth about them.
Judge Ben-Itto explains that what makes the protocols particularly dangerous is that they claim to be what the Jews themselves say, rather than what others say about them. In fact, she reveals, they were produced by the Russian secret police to justify anti-Jewish policies of the time. In turn, they were based on an 1860s French satire on Napoleon III’s rule, which had no Jewish content.
In the book, the judge explains five events in her life that brought her into contact with the protocols – like many Jews, she had not read them and she emphasises that about the only language into which they have not been translated is Hebrew.
Jews consider the idea of a global Jewish conspiracy so ridiculous that they have not bothered to counter the idea, she says. However, from her experience this has led to it becoming accepted by some, through repetition if nothing else.
Her initial encounter with the protocols was in 1965 as a member of the Israeli delegation to the UN, where Arab nations would denounce Israel at any and every opportunity – on one occasion, she was called ‘the delegate of the Elders of Zion’.
Then one friendly South American diplomat took her aside and warned her of the importance of challenging false accusations. ‘You Jews should have learned that lesson,’ he said. ‘You ignored Hitler’s Mein Kampf at your peril. You, of all people, should never ignore anti-Semitic libels and, most of all, do not ignore the theory of the Jewish conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – this book is dangerous.’
So it has proved. Judge Ben-Itto maintains that all Jewish conspiracy theories derive from the protocols, whether it was that the Jews caused the Great Depression, or the Aids epidemic, or were behind the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York, or countless others. She says Hitler adapted the protocols for his own use and they are also mentioned to this day in the covenant of terror group Hamas, as well as being widely distributed across the Middle East.
Judge Ben-Itto faces a mammoth task in countering a century of the protocols spreading across the world – the infamously anti-Semitic motorcar pioneer Henry Ford propagated them in the US and even today they are for sale on Amazon, although the Internet bookseller defends this on free speech grounds. They gained currency in England after the First World War until The Times exposed them as a lie in 1921.
As befits a person who spent 31 years on the bench, Judge Ben-Itto takes a legal approach, ‘putting the protocols on trial’. It is perhaps appropriate then that central to her story is a Swiss court case that caught the world’s attention in 1934, full details of which she has unearthed for the first time. It involved the Jewish community in Bern taking the local Nazi Party to court for publishing the protocols and winning, the judge dismissing them as ‘ridiculous nonsense’. Other courts and committees, including one of the US Senate, have also discredited them.
The book is well written and researched, and even has a whiff of a thriller about it – the author describes this as ‘one of the most dramatic stories of the 20th century’. She explains that while there have been publications in the past exposing the protocols, they were academic works that were inaccessible to the public.
Judge Ben-Itto is not naive – she knows some people will not change their minds. ‘I do believe there’s an open-minded public out there. I’m speaking to them,’ she says. ‘If you don’t do anything, people will say that where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.’
For Hadassah Ben-Itto, her own fire will forever burn. Her family fled Poland before the Second World War, but she dedicates the book as a monument to her many relatives who perished in the Holocaust. ‘I thought I had a debt to pay,’ she says.