April 14, 2000

Karin McQuillan, someone I have never met or heard of, is urging me to stay away from online bookstore Amazon.

Ms McQuillan did not email me directly —she started a chain letter which reached one of my lawyers in Baltimore, who forwarded it to me.

I don’t have an address for Ms McQ — neither virtual nor concrete. She may not be Jewish; McQuillan isn’t a common Jewish name.

I have a suspicion that she doesn’t really exist — just an electronic identity, a cautious cover for someone who wants to attack fascism without fascism attacking back.

That’s OK. I’m all for caution in dangerous situations.

And the target is a worthy one. Not Amazon — that’s a loss-making business with a share value bigger than Sainsbury’s, which means it is liable to be no risk to anyone but its investors.

Ms McQ is angry about something which has done far more damage and cost many more lives than any could ever cause — a book.

The book is a hoax, exposed 80 years ago as a cheap compilation of 19th century fiction and 20th century racism. It is called The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, and Hitler praised it in Mein Kampf as authentic and incomparable.

The Protocols, in last year’s translation by Victor Marsden, is offered at $19.96. It is 299 pages, available on order within four to six weeks, and when I checked tonight it was number 1,435 on Amazon’s bestsellers.

That’s 1,435 out of 2,000,000. My Stateside publishers tell me that when my books are in the Amazon top 2,000, I’m doing OK.

Karin McQuillan’s chain letter — written with the aim of being read by as many people as possible — says: ‘‘Experts on antisemitism see The Protocols as one of the most dangerous books ever written, responsible for the loss of untold life.’’

She clearly believes it should not be for sale online, and insists: ‘‘I would not shop in a store that sells neo-Nazi hate literature. I will never buy a book from again.’’

I checked for The Protocols in London’s biggest bookstore, Borders on Charing Cross Road. It wasn’t there. And if it had been, I might never, like Ms McQuillan, have returned to that shop.

There would be something stomach-churning about finding this vicious, hate-laden text on a bookshelf, slipped between the diets and the detectives and the bios and the bibles.

Perhaps online is something different. I would never know The Protocols were there, unless I typed the title into Amazon’s search engine.

Like the society women who went looking for foul language in Dr Johnson’s first dictionary, I can only be offended if I want to be.

Maybe the anonymous Ms McQ is a cunning Nazi who specialises in reverse psychology — making people think one thing by saying another. She neglects to protest at the availability of Mein Kampf through Amazon, but then that is charting at a lowly 30,000.

Readers are able to review books on Amazon, and about 30 people have submitted opinions on The Protocols.

One nameless reader from Winston Salem in North Carolina writes: ‘‘When I was an undergraduate, the book was out of print and nearly impossible to obtain. A professor of mine who dealt in war memorabilia as a hobby was asked by several of his colleagues, including a rabbi, to procure copies at the next gun show. Surely buying at Amazon is better than having to buy it at a gun show.’’

Another reviewer, Beth Hartford from Northern California, awards the book a maximum five stars — ‘‘only because it’s an excellent tool to teach what lies are, and how evil rulers use such evil garbage and nonsense as a means for power and genocide.’’

Aaron Etchin in Tel Aviv is more blunt: ‘‘Antisemite book — how can you sell it?’’

Not all the reviews are negative. This is a top 1,500 book, after all, and even if it might be making the charts because a few wealthy Ku Klux Klanners in Tennessee are buying it by the crate to send to their friends, there are clearly some readers who believe in The Protocols.

These people don’t accept the book was based on a French satire by a lawyer named Maurice Joly, or that the Tsarist police mixed in segments of an 1868 novel called Biarritz by Hermann Goedsche.

Hitler was not fooled. The book was clearly a true expose of the international Jewish conspiracy — why else was it ‘‘so infinitely hated by the Jews’’?

‘‘Once this book has become the common property of a people,’’ Hitler promised, ‘‘the Jewish menace may be considered as broken.’’

The Internet proves Hitler wrong. There never was a Jewish menace, and despite everything we are not broken. But it’s not only Amazon which supplies it — I found the entire text, compressed for quick transfer via modem, on a dozen sites within seconds.

One was a white supremacist webpage, another was a scholarly collection of 20th century antisemitic texts, with commentaries by an eminent Jewish academic.

Put away your matches. Even the worst books cannot be burned now.

Uri Geller’s novels Dead Cold and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is published by Element at £20.
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