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Booksellers disavow content of controversial title

Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com agree to post an Anti-Defamation League statement on their Web sites that calls a controversial book an anti-Semitic forgery and a tool of hate groups.

Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com have agreed to post an Anti-Defamation League statement on their Web sites that calls a controversial book an anti-Semitic forgery and a tool of hate groups, the companies said today.

The online booksellers also said they agreed to post their own statements that say they don't endorse the views expressed in "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," and in other translations of what is believed to be the same book, although some carry different titles. The statement is a first for Amazon, and the booksellers' actions are already drawing criticism from an online civil rights group.

"The book is anti-Semitic (and) used by haters every day of the week to promote their ideology," said Myrna Shinbaum, the ADL director of media relations. She said the ADL contacted the booksellers after receiving hundreds of complaints.

The book was written in 19th-century Russia by the czar's secret police, who made up the story that claims rabbis met in secret to take over the world. Scholars have considered the book fiction, but anti-Semitic groups say it is a factual account.

The ADL said it had submitted the following statement, although it had not yet appeared at Amazon or Barnesandnoble.com late today:

"The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, circulated by the Czarist secret police at the turn of the 20th century, is plainly and simply a plagiarized forgery. The Protocols has been a major weapon in the arsenals of anti-Semites around the world, republished and circulated by individuals, hate groups and governments to convince the gullible as well as the bigoted that Jews have schemed and plotted to take over the world."

But an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil rights group, called the disclaimers a "mistake," noting that consumers would not find them in a brick-and-mortar bookstore and that they could lead to other groups seeking similar disclaimers on material they found offensive, such as abortion.

"This is an easy case," attorney Deborah Pierce said. "Most people would find this book distasteful. But what happens when you get to things that have a little less consensus?

"If this is the trend, where do we draw that line?"

Interest groups have been turning the scrutiny up on offensive material sold online in recent months.

Earlier this year, eBay banned the sale of hate material on its site under pressure from the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center and Long Island, N.Y.-based BiasHELP.

Last year, the Wiesenthal Center raised questions about the sale of Hitler's manifesto, "Mein Kampf," on Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com and Borders.com in Germany. The sites later prohibited such sales.

Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith said the ADL statement was a "disclaimer" that the company would post tomorrow. She called the action "a rare instance."

"This is the first time we've done this," Smith said, "and we're not in the business of banning books."

A note appeared late today on Amazon that said: "Please note that Amazon does not endorse the views expressed in this book or those in the publisher's book description below."

"We wanted to be sensitive to the issue of hate literature, which this clearly is," Smith said.

Barnesandnoble.com called the statement an "informational posting" and said it consulted a rabbi before agreeing to post it. The company didn't say when it planned to post the statement.

"The book is considered a forgery," Barnesandnoble.com representative Gus Carlson said. "In a situation where there is concern over the legitimacy of the book, it is our job to make certain facts clear."

Barnesandnoble.com would not say whether it had issued this kind of statement for other books.

"It's not unusual, but we review books on a case-by-case basis," Carlson said, pointing out that Barnesandnoble.com already provides editorial reviews and opinion with each book offered for sale on its site.

Shinbaum said the ADL hasn't asked physical bookstores to post any kind of statement next to the book. She said it has asked bookstores to place an ADL book next to another controversial book, "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews," as a rebuttal.