'Dripping with poison of antisemitism': the demonization of George Soros

The billionaire was the first target in a series of mail bombs sent this week, an attack that comes as vilification of Soros has reached new heights

As investigators seek answers in the case of mail bombs sent to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and others, there will be no shortage of evidence regarding the first target, the billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

The bomb maker’s motivations remain unknown. What is clear is that the attempted attack comes as the demonization of Soros in the US, previously limited to fringe groups on the far right, has reached new heights. More recently it has been taken up by the most senior Republican politicians in the country, up to and including the president.

Experts worry it is a sign that taboos on public antisemitism have all but disappeared. Indeed Soros’s son, Alexander Soros, said in an op-ed on Wednesday that many attacks on his father over the years have been “dripping with the poison of anti-semitism”.

Earlier this month, Donald Trump repeated the familiar accusation that Soros pays for protesters, when he said that the “elevator screamers”– protesters who were confronting senators over their votes for Brett Kavanaugh, the then-nominee to the supreme court – had their signs “paid for by Soros and others”.

And in Minnesota last week, a TV ad in support of the Republican congressional candidate Jim Hagedorn described Soros as a “connoisseur of chaos” and a “funder of the left”. It implied that Hagedorn’s Democratic opponent, Dan Feehan, a combat veteran, was “owned” by Soros due to his employment by a centrist foreign policy thinktank, the Center for a New American Security.

The condemnation of Soros – a Hungarian-born Jew whose very open and public giving favors progressive causes – has been a constant drumbeat in countries where he works. This is particularly true of former Soviet bloc states like Russia, Hungary and Poland, where Soros initiatives have been banned and politically attacked. It surfaced in US rightwing media during the Bush administration, when Soros became more active in opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

From the racist white nationalist site the Daily Stormer to major conservative media stars, the right has been increasingly united over the last decade in seeing the hidden hand of Soros, whom they frequently describe as a “globalist”, in all manner of events.

He has been falsely accused by the right of orchestrating alleged violence from so-called “antifa” groups, manipulating the world economy, being a wartime Nazi collaborator and sponsoring the entirely fictional project of “white genocide”.

An anti-Soros campaign ad reading “99 percent reject illegal migration” and “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh” in Budapest, Hungary.
An anti-Soros campaign ad reading ‘99% reject illegal migration’ and ‘Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh’ in Budapest, Hungary. Photograph: Pablo Gorondi/AP

Figures like Alex Jones imagine Soros as the manipulative mastermind of a vast “globalist” conspiracy that seeks to restore the world to elite control, kill millions and reduce humanity to slavery.

Breitbart has published scores of articles on Soros’s alleged influence. Talkshow host Michael Savage has told his 11m daily listeners that Soros should be arrested and the groups he sponsors investigated by Congress. Earlier this year Fox News’ Tucker Carlson accused Soros of hating the United States, and on Monday night he laughed when a guest brought up the pipe bomb sent to Soros’s house.

Politicians have adopted the rhetoric. The Trump-aligned Florida congressman Matt Gaetz tweeted the suggestion that Soros might be paying money to Honduran immigrants to “join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time”. This suggestion was uncomfortably close to the white nationalist “white genocide” narrative that accuses Jews of orchestrating the demographic replacement of white Americans.

Indeed, advocacy groups like the ADL say that all of the conspiracy theories about Soros frequently use “well-worn antisemitic tropes”. Other experts and activists agree.

The discourse about Soros is a sign that the lessons of the second world war and the Holocaust are being forgotten, said Michael Barkun, a professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, and the author of several books on extremism and conspiracy theory.

“The knowledge of the Holocaust created a very strong taboo on the expression of antisemitism,” Barkun said.

“The farther we have come from the immediate postwar period, the weaker that taboo has become.”

Matthew Lyons, a researcher and the author of several books on rightwing populism and far-right ideology, said that commonly circulated narratives about George Soros resonate with a long history of antisemitic myths and stereotypes.

“One of the central antisemitic themes for a thousand years, at least, has been the notion that Jews represent this evil, super-powerful group that operates behind the scenes,” Lyons said.

“Often, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories don’t explicitly talk about Jews or ‘the Jews’ as a group. There’s some kind of code word or symbol that’s used in place.”

Police discovered an explosive device at Soros’ residence after responding to a call from an employee of the residence about a suspicious package in the mailbox.
Police discovered an explosive device at Soros’s residence after responding to a call from an employee of the residence about a suspicious package in the mailbox. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Encoding Soros as a “globalist” ties in with much older ways of talking about Jews in Europe. “For centuries,” Lyons said, “Jews were characterized in Christian-dominated Europe as a people that didn’t have a country. They were the ‘wandering Jew’. They were seen as visitors or interlopers in other people’s countries and so they were international in that sense.”

Most of the right – and especially Republicans – customarily deny any link between their attacks on Soros and antisemitism.

A spokesman for Minnesota the Republican Jim Hagedorn, stressed that his campaign does not coordinate with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which made the ad. But he did not back away from what he described as the ad’s criticism of Soros’s “aggressive funding of far-left positions in the American political sphere”.

He compared attacks on Soros to the left’s criticisms of figures like the Koch brothers, two billionaires who lavishly fund rightwing political causes. The ad, he said, “is no more sinister than the messages in my opponents’ campaign”. He also pointed to alleged connections between Minnesota’s Democratic attorney-general candidate, Keith Ellison, and the Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, who has repeatedly made antisemitic statements in public.

In light of pipe bomb attacks on figures, including Soros, who have loomed large in rightwing conspiracy theories, this may sound like whataboutery.

Lyons says, though, that while a legitimate discussion can be had about the outsized influence of wealthy people on our politics, in recent years the right has all too easily manipulated the sentiments that might inform that discussion.

“I think a lot of it goes back to the notion of the socialism of fools,” Lyons says, referring to the characterization of antisemitism frequently attributed to August Bebel.

“If you can take people’s anger at the people in power, take people’s sense of being beaten down and ripped off, take people’s sense that the economy is screwing them over, that their sense of entitlement is at risk, and blame it on the Jews or certain wealthy Jews, then that’s very helpful for deflecting people’s anger away from the actual systems of power.”

Contributor

Jason Wilson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Facebook reportedly discredited critics by linking them to George Soros
Facing a string of crises, Facebook hired a PR firm to push conspiracy theories about the billionaire, the New York Times reports

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

15, Nov, 2018 @3:25 AM

Article image
Zuckerberg: I didn't know of Facebook ties to firm that attacked George Soros
CEO says he learned about relationship with PR company after it was reported in New York Times

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

15, Nov, 2018 @11:51 PM

Article image
Farage criticised for using antisemitic themes to criticise Soros
Guardian reveals Brexit party leader called financier ‘biggest danger to western world’

Peter Walker Political correspondent

12, May, 2019 @4:03 PM

Article image
How the Koch brothers built the most powerful rightwing group you've never heard of
Americans for Prosperity is a little-known, billionaire-funded organization that has pushed US politics to the right. How did it happen?

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Caroline Tervo, Theda Skocpol

26, Sep, 2018 @7:01 AM

Article image
'Contemptible': outrage as Rudy Giuliani attacks George Soros as 'hardly a Jew'
ADL denounces ‘dog whistle to hardcore antisemites’ as Trump lawyer claims he is ‘more of a Jew than Soros’

Edward Helmore in New York

24, Dec, 2019 @7:14 PM

The Right Word: the George Soros obsession | Sadhbh Walshe

Sadhbh Walshe: So where does Glenn Beck get his ideas about the sinister motives of a billionaire philanthropist who backs liberal causes?

Sadhbh Walshe

17, Nov, 2010 @4:30 PM

Article image
Facebook policy chief admits hiring PR firm to attack George Soros
Communication head takes blame for hiring Definers Public Affairs as Sheryl Sandberg says antisemitism claim ‘abhorrent’

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

22, Nov, 2018 @1:36 AM

Article image
Bernie Sanders 'disgusted' after man unfurls Nazi flag at Arizona rally
Man has been identified as a far-right stunt-activists who posts offensive material to YouTube

Guardian staff

06, Mar, 2020 @10:57 PM

Article image
George Soros says EU should compensate Italy over migration
Strong showing of far-right parties partly due to Europe’s ‘flawed’ migration policies

Haroon Siddique and Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

03, Jun, 2018 @3:49 PM

Article image
Meet Dr Miriam Adelson: the record-breaking Republican donor driving Trump's Israel policy
The Las Vegas addiction doctor is stepping out of the shadow of her casino billionaire husband and just received a medal from the president

Christina Binkley

07, Jan, 2019 @11:00 AM