On the surface, the declaration of U.S. President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani that billionaire philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros is “hardly a Jew,” an “enemy of Israel” and that the Catholic former New York mayor is “more of a Jew than Soros is” appeared to be a breathtaking display of chutzpah.
As angry as Giuliani’s critics may be for his presumptuous decision to be, as Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt put it, “the arbiter of who is Jewish and who is not, or what is anti-Semitic and what is not,” the president’s attorney’s statements need to be put into context.
Giuliani was, after all, echoing sentiments previously expressed by prominent and powerful Jews in both the United States and Israel – most prominently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his son Yair and their allies in the right-wing Israeli and American Jewish circles in which Giuliani travels.
Greenblatt was the American Jewish leader who came down hardest on Giuliani, demanding an apology for Giuliani’s “baffling and offensive” words.
“For decades, George Soros’ philanthropy has been used as fodder for outsized anti-Semitic conspiracy theories insisting there exists Jewish control and manipulation of countries and global events,” Greenblatt told the Daily Beast. “Mr. Giuliani should apologize and retract his comments immediately, unless he seeks to dog whistle to hardcore anti-Semites and white supremacists who believe this garbage.”
Giuliani’s attack on Soros took place during the former’s boozy interview with New York Magazine journalist Olivia Nuzzi, published under the headline “A Conversation With Rudy Giuliani Over Bloody Marys at the Mark Hotel.” Between cocktails, Giuliani repeated a popular right-wing deep state conspiracy theory, asserting that former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch – Giuliani was active in having her removed – was a puppet “controlled” by Soros, who had “put four ambassadors” in their posts and is “employing the FBI agents.”
Giuliani then launched an attempted preemptive strike against those who would call his statements racist: “Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose him. Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about – he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion – synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DAs in the United States. He’s a horrible human being.”
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As outrageous and unhinged as Giuliani’s assertions may sound, they follow years of demonization and near excommunication of Soros by members of his own tribe. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Giuliani – drunkenly or not – could feel confident that his words would receive a kosher stamp of approval.
Only two months ago, Yair Netanyahu was in Budapest, Hungary, at the invitation of a pro-government think tank, asserting that Soros “is destroying Israel from the inside” and that his Open Society Foundations and other groups he funds “are working day and night with an unlimited budget to rob the country of its Jewish identity.”
According to a report in Hungary Today, Netanyahu said that the European Union was funding hundreds of “radical Soros organizations” in Israel that were hoping to put an end to the Jewish state by eroding its Jewish character and flooding it with illegal immigrants.
It was two years ago that the same Yair Netanyahu made headlines when he posted a meme on his Facebook page suggesting that his parents’ burgeoning legal woes were the result of a Soros-led conspiracy. The meme, popular in anti-Semitic alt-right circles, featured a photo of Soros dangling a globe in front of a reptilian creature, who dangles an alchemy symbol in front of a caricature of a figure reminiscent of the anti-Semitic “happy merchant” image. The photo had been enhanced to include enemies of the Netanyahus, like former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, anti-Netanyahu protest leader Eldad Yaniv and Meni Naftali, a former chief caretaker at the Netanyahus’ official residence.
Netanyahu’s use of the image inspired the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer to run the headline “Netanyahu’s Son Posts Awesome Meme Blaming the Jews for Bringing Down his Jew Father” and was approvingly noticed by David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has struck out against Soros. The Yair Netanyahu meme followed on the heels of a public controversy that cast a shadow on the prime minister’s trip to Hungary in July 2017. Ahead of the visit, Hungarian leader Victor Orban launched an anti-immigration campaign targeting Soros, plastering his cities with billboards with Soros’s smiling face, captioned, “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh.”
Responding to complaints from Hungarian Jews that the posters were sparking an uptick in anti-Semitism, Israel’s then-ambassador to Hungary condemned the signs, saying that Orban’s campaign “not only evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear” and called on “the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle.”
Netanyahu then personally ordered that the statement be clarified to stress that “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.”
Netanyahu has made no secret of his battle against Soros’ support of left-wing, pro-Palestinian organizations, both in Israel and in the U.S., particularly groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which publicly chastise and criticize Israeli policies.
The groups supported by Soros were the targets of Netanyahu’s so-called NGO law, which passed in 2018 and mandated special reporting requirements for organizations that receive most of their funding from foreign governments. In the midst of the 2017 controversy, Netanyahu loyalist Miki Zohar said he plans to introduce a “Soros law,” which would ensure that “any person donating to organizations acting against Israel will not be allowed to donate to any organization or nonprofit association in Israel.”
In 2018, in an attack on the New Israel Fund, Netanyahu called it “an organization that receives money from foreign governments and from forces hostile to Israel, like George Soros’ foundations,” which aimed “to erase the Jewish nature of Israel and to turn it into a state of all its citizens next to a Palestinian state without any Jews on the 1967 border with its capital as Jerusalem.”
The same year, the prime minister was sued for disseminating fake news on Facebook when he posted an article alleging Soros was cooperating with the Iranian regime. Attorney Shachar Ben-Meir claimed that the article posted by Netanyahu was “a false article, false and cheap propaganda” which was the “‘invention’ of a false conspiracy theory, under which a man named George Soros collaborated with the totalitarian regime in Iran…”
Attacks on Soros are also common in the right-wing pro-Israel American Jewish circles where Giuliani has many friends and supporters. During the same period in 2017 when Yair Netanyahu posted the Soros meme, Adam Milstein, the former chairman of the board of the Israeli American Council and a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee National Council, tweeted and then deleted another cartoon meme. This one was an image depicting Soros as a multi-tentacled monster squeezing the globe, previously featured on anti-Semitic and pro-Russian websites. After far-left activists pointed out Milstein’s use of the image, he removed it, pleading ignorance of its anti-Semitic origins.
Giuliani’s assertions regarding Soros strongly echoed a recent statement by the leaders of the Zionist Organization of America condemning former Trump White House Director for European and Russian Affairs Fiona Hill. During Hill’s congressional testimony in the Trump impeachment hearings, she called Soros-centered conspiracy theories “the new ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’”
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and ZOA Chairman Mark Levenson said that they “utterly condemn Fiona Hill’s absurd, unprincipled and cynical defense of George Soros” and said it was wrong to compare the conspiratorial attacks on him to “a document that motivated and energized anti-Semites the world over, including the Nazis.”
Soros, the ZOA leaders said, “is a radical extremist anti Israel billionaire and speculator whose activities have fanned opposition in many countries.” They added that while “in some cases, the things said about George Soros – a Jew, though a thoroughly assimilated one who does not identify either with the Jewish community or the state of Israel, which he loathes and has publicly compared to the Nazis – have been tinged with anti-Semitism. ... To assert that criticism of George Soros cannot be voiced because it is anti-Semitic to be critical of him is an intellectually dishonest and absurd argument.”