Vilification of Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros by right-wing supporters of President Donald Trump has intensified in the final weeks before the 2018 midterm elections.
“He is satanic,” tweeted actor James Woods Saturday night, charging that “the degree to which this one Nazi collaborator has undermined the stability of Western democracies is virtually incalculable.”
Woods’ description of Soros as a “Nazi collaborator” is a debunked smear based on the fact that as a child, Soros and his entire family hid their identities and posed as Christians to avoid capture and death during the Nazi occupation in Hungary. This story has been twisted into false charges that, as a young teenager, he helped round up Jews for the Nazis or took inventory of Nazi-confiscated Jewish property.
A week before Woods’ attack, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani retweeted a post calling Soros “the anti-Christ.”
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The new prominence of harsh anti-Soros messaging by Trump’s supporters came after the president himself invoked his name - claiming Soros bankrolled those protesting the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Extreme conspiracy-driven broadsides on Soros aren’t new in pro-Trump quarters. In the 2016 campaign, messages portraying Soros - whose Open Society Foundations promote liberal values and democratization and work against authoritarian governments - as a manipulative demonic puppet master of the “globalists.” The campaign shows him as a “radical leftist” funding “unhinged mobs” behind the racial unrest in Ferguson found its way from alt right Twitter into pro-Trump television advertising.
In Trump’s final campaign ad, “Donald Trump’s Argument for America,” Soros’s photograph appears during a description of those who “control the levers in Washington” who “have trillions of dollars at stake” and part of the “global special interests” who “have bled our country dry.”
The re-emergence of an anti-Soros message in a campaign season echoes its use by anti-Semitic far right parties across Eastern and Western Europe, most prominently by Victor Orban in Soros’s native Hungary.
An in-depth piece published over the weekend in the Daily Beast by Spencer Ackerman traced the roots and reasons for the unrelenting demonization of Soros: “For the far right, from Russia to central Europe and increasingly, America, Soros is the latest Jewish manipulator whose extreme wealth finances puppet groups and publications to drain the prosperity of the Herrenvolk (master race).” Ackerman warns that “the attack on Soros follows classic anti-Semitic templates, grimly recurrent throughout western history, and some of the most powerful geopolitical figures in the world are pushing it... Other Jewish bogeymen may haunt the fever dreams of the vicious, but the scale and intensity of the attacks on Soros are unrivalled. They reveal what the global nationalist right believes is at stake in this present moment. We may one day look back on this era as the Soros Age of anti-Semitism.”
Ackerman’s article quotes Anti-Defamation League researcher Aryeh Tuchman, the associate director of the ADL's Center on Extremism, expressing concern that “the prevalence of conspiracy theories about Soros which paint him as a larger than life, powerful figure has the effect of shrinking that public space where anti-Semitism is not acceptable” and “inching toward the edges of that space where anti-Semitism is acceptable.”
But conservative columnist Jonathan Tobin contends that in the setting of modern American politics, criticizing wealthy Jewish donors over political issues should not necessarily be seen as anti-Semitic narrative.
“Talk of global conspiracies may resonate in Hungary, but Soros-bashing means something different in the U.S.,” Tobin argued in Haaretz, insisting that conservative distaste for Soros should be seen as “no more illegitimate than the way the left attacks GOP donors.” Characterizing all anti-Soros criticism as being anti-Semitic, he said is “unfair.”
When backing his attacks on Soros, Trump’s supporters frequently cite the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other politicians on the right in Israel regularly criticize the Jewish billionaire. His son, Yair Netanyahu, has even gone as far as to post a conspiratorial anti-Semitic meme depicting Soros as a supernatural puppet-master.
The Israeli Prime Minister has pointed the finger at Soros for funding protest campaigns against his plan to deport thousands of African asylum seekers and his support of human rights group that regularly chastise Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Netanyahu intervened after the Israeli ambassador to Hungary criticized Orban’s election campaign posters that showed a smiling Soros with the caption "Let's not let Soros have the last laugh" as deriving from an anti-Semitic trope. Under the prime minister’s direction, the Israeli government retracted the ambassador’s statement and charged that Soros “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.”
Last month, Netanyahu was sued for posting an article on his Facebook page that falsely claimed that Soros was “cooperating closely” with Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif through his foundations.