The anti-Semitic pamphlet called the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is a fictitious speech which a Jewish leader allegedly gave before a secret conference of the so called Elders of Zion.
This conference is said to have decided that a king of the House of Zion was to gain world dominion through violence, deceit and cunning and through political ideas like liberalism, democracy or the plotting of economic crises, revolutions and wars.
Will Eisner's drawings chronologically narrate the history of this smear pamphlet from its origin and dissemination until the development of his own publication.
It starts in1864 when French writer Maurice Joly writes a pamphlet against Emperor Napoleon III called "Discussions Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu in the Underworld", aiming at uncovering and accusing methods of the suppression of society. The fake documents are produced thirty years later, commissioned by the Russian nobility and Secret Service, based on Joly's book. The purpose was to discredit the liberal forces at the court of Nicholas II and to obstruct Tsarist modernisation policy. The plot works, and the dissemination of the Protocols leads to a great number of pogroms in Russia.
Then the worldwide victory of the pamphlet starts. Henry Ford quotes it in his anti-Semitic writings of the 1920ies, where he tries to depict America as a country infiltrated by the Jews. The German National Socialist use it to justify their anti-Semitism which is aimed a the extermination of the Jews. The Protocols are perceived in South America as well as in Western and Eastern Europe as serious writings; after the change their status has again been enhanced in the East European transition states. Last but not least, they serve as a justification of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda in the countries of the Arab world. The Egyptian television, for instance, produced a multi-part series based on the Protocols that was shown in several Arabic countries.
Eisner also shows the fight against the dissemination of these anti-Semitic lies. A British journalist working for the Times during the 1920ies, a Swiss journalist covering the court case of the Swiss Israelite community against the "National Front" in the 1930ies, and Eisner himself, who investigated the case at the end of the 20th century for his graphic novel, all came up with proof of the fake character of the Protocols. Each new proof gives rise to the (still unfulfilled) hope that rational explanations will be able to stop the dissemination of this smear pamphlet and of anti-Semitic ideology.
Will Eisner died in January 2005, shortly after the publication of his graphic novel, which he hoped will be "another nail to the coffin of this terrible, vampiric deceit" (Will Eisner in his introduction), which will do away with this lie of a Jewish world conspiracy in a clearly understandable way. "The Plot" is the legacy of a person who was fascinated by the question why so many people do not accept the Jews, but hate them. Eisner himself remains sceptical against fighting anti-Semitism through information. The last picture of his comic book shows a burning synagogue.
In spite of this, he wrote his story in the style of a didactical pamphlet. Instead of using typical elements of the comic book like irony and estrangement, thus meeting the anti-Semitic conspiracy in a subtle way, Eisner relies on rational arguments. 15 pages of the comic book are dedicated to the comparison of excerpts from the Protocols with Joly's text "Discussions between Machiavelli and Montesquieu in the Underworld". A reader who is already convinced of the fake character of the Protocols will recognise the counterfeit when comparing. But will the other readers, who Eisner tries to appeal to, really go to all that trouble?
The use of this graphic novel in an educational context poses the question that is of general importance for all education against anti-Semitism: whether it is possible to overcome anti-Semitic attitudes through rational arguments. Having recognised the origin of the Protocols, historical-political education aiming at the formation of responsible citizens needs to concentrate on the question why people stick to conspiracy theories in spite of better knowledge. It must also enable young people to perceive reality in all its complexity and contradictions without any exclusions and discriminating simplifications. Reading Will Eisner's comic book may be a point of departure for this intensive and difficult educational effort with young adults.