Filed at 1:34 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A century-old anti-Semitic tract, ''The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,'' has resurfaced in places as disparate as Japan and the Middle East, according to a museum exhibit opening on Friday.
Repeatedly exposed as a fraud, the ``Protocols'' was first published in 1905 in czarist Russia to foment anti-Jewish violence, and has been an effective propaganda tool since then, said Daniel Greene, a curator at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
``It purports to be the secret minutes of the meetings of the learned elders of Zion, a secret group of Jews that actually never existed,'' Greene said before the opening of the exhibit, ``A Dangerous Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.''
The 24 protocols, or chapters, of the original 100-page book outline fictitious plans ``to manipulate the economy, to control the media, to foster religious hatred and ultimately to enthrone a Jewish king of the world,'' Greene said.
Each time the ``Protocols'' has come to prominence in the past, journalists and scholars managed to quickly debunk it as clumsy plagiarism based on an obscure 1864 anti-Napoleonic rant by Maurice Joly called ``Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu.''
It also took a bit from an even more obscure Prussian novel, ``Biarritz,'' which has a chapter in which a group of Jewish elders meet in a cemetery to plan their conquest, Greene said.
Nevertheless, the work has ridden waves of popularity starting after the 1917 Russian Revolution and continuing during the rise of Nazism in Germany. Widely translated, the ''Protocols'' is a mainstream text in the Arab and Islamic world.
Easy access to the Internet has spurred its spread; a Google search turns up more than half a million Web sites.
The exhibit shows modern printed versions in Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, German and English, among others. Many feature cover art showing the putative threat as a bloody human-headed snake encircling the world.
A 2004 Japanese edition pictures the menace as a scull-capped vulture, while a 2005 Syrian text shows an dark-eyed white-bearded man holding the world in his hands.
The Syrian version blames the September 11, 2001, hijack attacks on the Jewish conspiracy. ``It says that it's obviously in Jewish interests for America to have invaded Iraq and so the Jews orchestrated the attacks of September 11,'' Greene said.
Greene found the Japanese edition of particular interest, noting that fewer than 1,000 Jews live in Japan, which has a total population of about 128 million.
``What this book says is, we must guard against a Jewish takeover,'' he said.
``The idea of a Jewish conspiracy existed before the protocols and what those who defend the 'Protocols' do is say, 'You can prove the book is plagiarized, but you can't disprove a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.'
``And any effort to do that becomes part of the conspiracy itself,'' Greene said. ``It puts those trying to disprove the 'Protocols' in an impossible position.''
The exhibit explores the book's continuing impact, but does not seek to keep it away from readers.
``There's certainly an issue of free speech here,'' Greene said. ``We're not saying by any means that these books shouldn't be read. But ... if it's categorized as Jewish history, versus conspiracy literature, then there's a problem.''
More information on the exhibit and the ``Protocols'' is available online at www.ushmm.org.