"Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," a pamphlet crafted by the secret police of Imperial Russia in the late 1890s, purports to be the minutes of meetings of Jewish leaders plotting to take over the world. Though first printed in a gold-leaf edition intended for the tsar, "Protocols" quickly found its way into the hands of more ordinary folk. Even after it was exposed as a fake, the pamphlet sparked pogroms, was lauded by Nazis, and is passed around like Scripture by right-wing militia members today.

Stephen Eric Bronner, a Rutgers University political scientist whose family escaped for Hitler's Germany, traces the history of "Protocols" in his slender new book. "A Rumor About the Jews" is cleanly written, and the charged emotions that have marred many assessments of "Protocols" are blessedly absent. But the book has little else to recommend it. Bronner's suggestion that "Protocols" married anti-Semitism with a larger attack on Enlightenment thinking can be found in most Western Civ textbooks. And his digressive assertion, in the concluding pages, that "anti-Semitism is no longer a threat in the terms of times past" is no more innovative.

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