For more than a decade now, right wing NGOs such as Im Tirtzu and My Israel have been leading vehement campaigns against progressive philanthropies. They are enthusiastically assisted by politicians in the Likud and HaBayit HaYehudi parties.
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For the right, such attacks kill two birds with one stone.
First, in the absence of a functioning center-left parliamentary opposition in Israel, attacks seek to delegitimize the most vocal opposition against government policies - those that tend to originate in civil society.
Secondly, by shifting the focus to "the enemies within", Israel’s right-wing leadership – de facto in power for four consecutive decades – manages to evade wide public criticism against its stagnant governance and policies. Attacking the New Israel Fund or European governments who support human rights work in Israel served as an Archimedean inflection point to discredit many dozens of their grantees, rendering all as traitors in a wholesale manner.
The success of the right’s strategy has been so overwhelming that in public debates in Israel and the Diaspora today, right wingers have largely abandoned the practice of providing arguments and simply respond to challenges by arguing that their interlocutor is funded by the aforementioned ‘evil’ anti-Israeli forces and therefore not worthy of stating any claim.
You’d expect that, bearing in mind this ever-expanding attack on progressive foreign aid, George Soros’ global philanthropic Open Society Foundations, which embodies the kind of support the right demonizes, would become an obvious major target.
Yet, until last week, little to no attention was paid by the usual Israeli right-wing attackers to Soros or to OSF. In all probability, the reason for “sparing” Soros’ philanthropy thus far lay in the nature of their giving. Spending many millions on humanitarian causes and democracy-building around the wider Middle East, OSF’s activity in Israel specifically and in relation to it has always been limited.
If Soros and the OSF were never prominent enough to merit a direct negative campaign for Israel’s diligent right wing, why now? The answer is not to be found in any of Soros’ recent actions, but rather in the shifting interests of Israel’s hard right.
Underlying the official assault on Soros and his alleged support of BDS against Israel is the growing alliance of Israeli right-wingers with Europe’s radical right.
It began with the disturbing welcome given by members of the Likud governing party to Austrian radical right politicians. Later on, similar ties were forged between more members of Israel’s right wing, mostly its national religious faction, and new partners in Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, the American alt-right and of course, Hungary.
United around a shared hate of Arabs and Muslims, radical European right-wingers provided for certain Israeli politicians and activists a way out of their isolation in the international arena. In return, Israeli counterparts provided kosher certificates attesting that the foreign hardliners are not the anti-Semites they seem to be.
The naked truth regarding this unholy covenant was exposed when only two days after condemning the Hungarian prime minister’s vicious and openly anti-Semitic campaign against Soros, the Israeli government partly retracted and joined the choir against the Jewish billionaire and his progressive operations. It took no more than a handful of angry tweets from right-wing pundits to remind PM Netanyahu that his electoral base is not against the new anti-Semites, but rather consider them their next-of-kin. The fight against anti-Semitism could be discarded in order to make room for a shared negative portrait of Soros.
This move ought to be highly disturbing for anyone who believes in Israel and the Jewish project of national self-determination. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, one of Israel’s fundamental commitments was, and still is, the fight against anti-Semitism in all its guises and forms.
This is not only a way of protecting Israel and its international status from quasi-diplomatic forms of hidden anti-Semitism. It is also a core element of Israeli solidarity with Diaspora Jews. Abandoning this most basic tenet of Israel’s foundational core values and mission marks a dangerous slippery slope, that adds to the escalating rift between most U.S. Jews and the Israeli governing elites.
An even more concerning aspect of these new and critically near-sighted alliances between the Israeli right and ultra-nationalist powers in Europe and the U.S. touches on the Holocaust itself. European ultra-nationalists don’t only rely on the Israeli support in rewriting their countries’ role in implementing the Final Solution; they also contribute directly to the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents against Jews in the Diaspora.
Can it be that in order to secure support for the settlement project, Israel is turning its back to the Jewish people and their safety? Can it be that unwittingly, Israeli leaders are promoting a new and sophisticated form of Holocaust denial? These are the important questions to be asked, and not the irresponsible diversions of the nuances of George Soros’ position on Zionism.
Hillel Ben-Sasson is a visiting assistant professor of Israel Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. In the past he worked as Director of Programs for Molad, a think tank that received partial support from the Open Society Foundations.