Anti-Semitism Has a New Name
MADRID – Over the centuries, Jews have been blamed for all sorts of ills in Christian and Muslim societies, from the Great Plague of the fourteenth century to the financial crashes of modern times. In 1903, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, produced by Imperial Russia’s secret police, “exposed” a diabolical Jewish plot to achieve world domination by promoting liberalism – and became a pretext for anti-Semitism in Europe. These narratives endure to this day, only now they are being projected onto a single Jew: George Soros.
Right-wing, anti-globalist conspiracy theorists – a group that now includes US President Donald Trump – demonize Soros, a wealthy Jew who is deeply committed to liberal causes. The former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly described Soros in 2007 as “off-the-chart dangerous,” and “an extremist who wants open borders, a one-world foreign policy, legalized drugs, euthanasia, and on and on.” For the Texas-based Infowars founder Alex Jones, Soros is nothing less than “the head of the Jewish mafia” conspiring to derail Trump’s presidency.
Such figures imagine the hidden hand of the “leftist billionaire” almost everywhere. When a caravan of desperate Central American asylum-seekers began walking all the way to the United States border before the recent US midterm elections, it was a ploy by Soros to win a Democratic majority in Congress. When survivors of February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, launched a gun-control campaign, Soros was supposedly bankrolling them. And it was Soros who arranged for Christine Blasey Ford to testify that Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, had sexually assaulted her.
Soros was also supposedly behind the sexual-assault survivors who confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator to demand an investigation into the Kavanaugh accusations, just as he orchestrated the Women’s March, a worldwide protest held the day after Trump’s inauguration. He was even pulling the strings when the NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people.
But Soros’ imaginary designs are hardly limited to the US, nor are they all recent. He has, his detractors declare, single-handedly destabilized governments in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom.
How did Soros come to be such a larger-than-life villain?
Soros is what the late historian Isaac Deutscher would call a “non-Jewish Jew” – one who sought ideas, inspiration, and fulfillment beyond the boundaries of Jewry, and yet continued to belong to the Jewish tradition. That stance often enables the non-Jewish Jew to make important contributions to science, culture, and politics.
This is certainly true of Soros, who is not just an enlightened philanthropist, but also a perceptive intellectual participating in today’s most heated debates. Soros has proposed bold solutions to a wide range of problems, including Brexit, eurozone reform, migration policy, and the crisis of global capitalism.
A disciple of the philosopher Karl Popper, Soros has promoted open societies as the ultimate guarantee of freedom from tyranny and religious or ideological indoctrination, and as a powerful weapon against rising social inequality. A globalized community that neutralizes the influence of nationalism, he rightly believes, is vital to enable us to confront existential threats like climate change and nuclear conflict.
So, beyond offering funding for ameliorative programs, Soros uses his philanthropy to advance a vision of a truly free society governed by democratically accountable leaders. For example, his foundations played an integral role spreading democratic ideals beyond the Iron Curtain, both before and after it fell. It is this dimension of Soros’ work – together with the sheer fact that he is a wealthy Jewish financier – that so infuriates the far right, beginning in the very countries whose democratic transitions he once supported.
As Eastern Europe’s democracies backslide politically, Soros has made donations to NGOs fighting corruption and authoritarianism. This has prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to ban the Open Society Foundations from disbursing grants to Russian organizations and artists.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who once received a scholarship from Soros to study at Oxford, has introduced the so-called Stop Soros law, which prohibits “promoting and supporting illegal migration.” The law’s vague wording means that the government could, in theory, arrest anyone who provides any kind of assistance to undocumented immigrants.
Perhaps the most pernicious manifestation of this anti-Soros hysteria, however, has occurred in Israel. Against the advice of his own ambassador to Hungary, who denounced Orbán’s anti-Semitic attacks on Soros, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has blamed Soros for “funding organizations that seek to deny Israel the right to defend itself,” and introduced its own “Soros law” aimed at terminating that funding.
To be clear, Netanyahu’s accusation is preposterous. Out of the $1 billion the Open Society Foundations donate annually worldwide, some $3 million went to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs. At the top of the list is the Palestinian Al-Quds University, whose rector, Sari Nusseibeh, created a peace plan jointly with Ami Ayalon, a former admiral and head of the Israel Security Agency (more widely known as Shin Bet). Another recipient, B’Tselem, is an Israeli group that monitors human-rights violations in the occupied territories.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu allows multi-million-dollar donations for settlement construction by right-wing donors like Sheldon Edelson. In fact, Netanyahu has often allied himself with whichever government or party, including far-right anti-Semites, is willing to support the repression of the occupied Palestinians. So what we are seeing is an Israeli prime minister team up with the ideological descendants of European fascists to attack a Holocaust survivor whose philanthropy fulfills the principle, called tikkun olam, that Jews must act in ways that improve or repair the world. Netanyahu’s son, Yair, went so far as to post on his Facebook page a revolting anti-Semitic cartoon targeting Soros, with Nazi imagery.
Some ultra-wealthy individuals, such as Charles and David Koch, who control the second-largest privately owned company in the US, really do use their wealth in opaque and subversive ways. It is they, not Soros and his transparent Open Society Foundations, who represent the real threat to our politics and societies.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.
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