Blaming Soros for Campus Protests is Anti-Semitic — Just Ask Israel

Image by Ed Rampell.

The Israeli government has criticized others for peddling conspiracy theories related to the Jewish philanthropist.

From The New York Post to The Wall Street Journal, right-wing pundits have lined up to malign students across the United States who have rightfully criticized their schools for supporting the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza. As the genocide continues to unfold — claiming the lives of 35,562 Palestinians, including 15,000 children, according to Al Jazeera at the time of this writing — students, faculty and staff have brought overdue scrutiny to the complicity of their universities, whose endowments are altogether valued at more than $839 billion per the National Association of College and University Business Officers and invested extensively in the Israeli economy, including weapons manufacturers profiting directly from Palestinian death. Rather than accept that students oppose their tuition dollars being spent to kill Palestinians, right-wing pundits have instead accused them of being “paid protesters” in the employ of philanthropist George Soros.

As absurd as such a conspiracy theory is — and as morally bankrupt as it reveals those peddling it to be — the contention that the student movement against the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza is the product of Soros’ manipulation is deeply anti-Semitic. Need proof? Just ask Israel.

“Sows Hatred and Fear”

In 2017, the governments of Israel and Hungary had a spat over another conspiracy theory related to Soros, which journalist Sylvain Cypel covers in his book The State of Israel vs the Jews. Hungary’s current prime minister, Viktor Orban, was then running for a fourth term as head of the right-wing political party Fidesz. In the lead up to parliamentary elections, Fidesz ran a widespread ad campaign featuring Soros, a Jewish Hungarian-American hedge fund manager turned philanthropist, who supports liberal causes such as immigration reform via his Open Society Foundations. Posters with the philanthropist’s laughing face and the slogan “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh” were put up throughout public transportation networks, suggesting that he was somehow undermining the upcoming election, if not Hungary at large.

Rather than vilifying Soros alone, Fidesz’ campaign drew on both historical and contemporary threads of anti-Semitism in Hungary. From 1920 to 1944, Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy introduced a series of laws persecuting Jews, which were inspired in part by the Nazi doing the same. In 2017, Orban described Horthy as an “exceptional statesman,” obscuring the deaths of nearly half a million Hungarian Jews under the latter’s reign. A year later, Orban would describes Hungary’s “opponents” in a series of thinly veiled anti-Semitic tropes:

… we must fight against an opponent which is different from us. Their faces are not visible, but are hidden from view; they do not fight directly, but by stealth; they are not honorable, but unprincipled; they are not national, but international; they do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs.

It was in this context that Israel’s then ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, condemned Fidesz’s campaign vilifying Soros. In a statement approved by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amrani demanded that Orban and Fidesz take down the posters featuring Soros, connecting his vilification directly to the history of anti-Semitism in Hungary:

… beyond political criticism of a certain person, the campaign not only evokes sad memories, but also sows hatred and fear. It’s our moral responsibility to raise a voice and call on the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle.

“They’re on Our Side”

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that such campaigns sowing hatred and fear must be put to an end. In response to Amrani’s statement, the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that their “duty is to defend our homeland and citizens” and “like Israel, Hungary too takes steps against anyone who represents a risk to the national security of the country and its citizens.”

The following day, another rebuff of Amrani came from a perhaps unexpected quarter: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu had the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs retract Amrani’s statement and issue a “clarification” without any criticism of or demands upon Orban and Fidesz — instead doubling down on vilifying Soros:

In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.

It is impossible to make sense of Netanyahu undermining Amrani without understanding the weaponization of anti-Semitism by Zionists, or Jewish ethno-nationalists. To Zionists like Netanyahu, the only anti-Semitism is opposition to Israel. Therefore, Orban — whom Netanyahu met shortly after the spat described above and who would go on to be the only European leader to oppose a ceasefire in the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza — categorically could not be an anti-Semite thanks to his support for Israel. In fact, from the Zionist perspective, it is Soros who is the anti-Semite due to the Open Society Foundations’ support for organizations opposing the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine, such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

The Zionist weaponization of anti-Semitism extends seamlessly to today. In addition to being slandered as “paid protesters,” students — including Jewish ones — who express their opposition to the Israeli genocide in Gaza and occupation of Palestine more broadly are condemned as “anti-Semitic mobs” by Netanyahu. Meanwhile, the Conservative Political Action Conference hosts both a session on “Going Full Hungarian: Stopping Georgey [SIC] Soros” and Israeli politicians like Simcha Rothman and Ohad Tal.

To explain away the apparent contradictions of Zionists defending those who peddle anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, Cypel quotes Anat Berko, a former member of Netanyahu’s political party, in The State of Israel vs. the Jews: “They might be anti-Semites, but they’re on our side.”

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