Opinion

Why Is Netanyahu Allying Himself With anti-Soros anti-Semites?

It's clear that by blaming 'outside' forces for a grassroots uproar against his un-Jewish deportation policy, Netanyahu has lost touch with Israel's most foundational values

African migrants demonstrate outside the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, Israel against Israeli government policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. Feb. 7, 2018
JACK GUEZ/AFP

After the recent accusations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the billionaire philanthropist and leading donor to liberal causes George Soros is funding Israeli protests against deporting asylum seekers and Soros’ clarification that, while he opposes Netanyahu’s refugee policy, he is not funding the protests, the natural question should be: What lies behind these false claims and misdirection? 

When former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore blames George Soros for Alabamans turning against him, we know all too well that he is conjuring up the anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish conspirators and resurrecting the accusations of "outside agitators" that Alabama politicians used 50 years ago in a grotesque effort to prevent desegregation.

And when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban invokes the Soros name in his massive advertising campaign featuring menacing images of Soros that are very much in tune with anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews used by the pro-Nazi Hungarian regime during World War II, we know instantly that Orban is hoping to stoke the fires of nationalism and hate, using the same old playbook.

African migrants demonstrate outside the Embassy of Rwanda in Herzliya, Israel against the Israeli government's policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. February 7, 2018
JACK GUEZ/AFP

So, what exactly is Netanyahu doing when he allies himself politically and strategically with anti-Semites and those who trade in anti-Semitism?

Has his nationalism gotten so out of control that he is blind to the rising threats of anti-Semitism and is willing to find friends anywhere he can if he believes they share tactical common ground, even if it pits him against the wider Jewish community?

It is like an American civil rights organization partnering with the Ku Klux Klan to build affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods. Laughable, if it wasn’t so stomach turning.

By blaming outside forces for a grassroots uproar that is focused on the fact that deporting asylum seekers is quite frankly un-Jewish, Netanyahu shows he has lost touch with the very values that undergird the Jewish democratic state.

Those who protest the deportations are motivated by the belief that the Israeli government has lost sight of why deporting the "stranger", when we were once "strangers too", seems anathema to the essence of Judaism for many of us.

And that it is the fundamental right and even responsibility, in a democracy, to stand up and make your voice heard when you disagree with your government.

African migrants hold signs during a protest in front of the Rwandan embassy in Herzliya, Israel. Feb. 7, 2018
Ariel Schalit/AP

No false accusations about funding or anything else will distract American Jews and Israelis from realizing that mass deportations are never in our interest.

Rather than demonize African asylum seekers in order to score cheap political points, Netanyahu could turn his attention to the economy that has left far too many Israeli cities and towns behind.

He could and should invest in decaying neighborhoods like ones in south Tel Aviv (rather than fomenting tension between working-class Mizrahi residents and newly arrived asylum seekers) and honor our tradition by helping those seeking asylum to settle and thrive in Israel.

Simon Greer is a Jewish-American social entrepreneur who has held numerous leadership roles in the American Jewish community.