ABC canceled Roseanne Barr’s “Roseanne” show on Tuesday after she compared a former top aide to President Barack Obama to an ape. Roseanne apologized and blamed the sleep aid Ambien for the racist tweet, which said the African-American Valerie Jarrett was the product of a coupling of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes” – but the damage was done.
But before her apology, and while she was parrying appalled responses to her attack on Jarrett, Barr was also dueling with Chelsea Clinton, whom she said in a series of tweets was married to a nephew of George Soros. She isn’t: It’s a false rumor that seems to have been started by another TV personality, Scott Baio.
That devolved into Barr repeating a falsehood popular in some conservative circles that the liberal Hungarian-Jewish billionaire was a Nazi collaborator – a narrative that has problematic echoes in Holocaust denial.
Barr’s initial tweet read “Chelsea Soros Clinton.” She expanded in a subsequent tweet, referencing the internet myth about Clinton and a Soros nephew.
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Clinton replied: “Good morning Roseanne – my given middle name is Victoria. I imagine George Soros’ nephews are lovely people. I’m just not married to one. I am grateful for the important work @OpenSociety does in the world. Have a great day!”
Open Society is the philanthropist’s charitable foundation, which conservatives in Europe and the United States, including Barr, accuse of pushing a liberal world order.
Barr apologized twice, but it seemed less than sincere.
“CORRECTION: CHELSEA CLINTON IS NOT MARRIED TO A SOROS NEPHEW. HER HUSBAND IS THE SON OF A CORRUPT SENATOR, SO SORRY!” she said in one tweet. And in a reply to Clinton, she wrote: “Sorry to have tweeted incorrect info about you! Please forgive me! By the way, George Soros is a Nazi who turned in his fellow Jews to be murdered in German concentration camps and stole their wealth – were you aware of that? But, we all make mistakes, right Chelsea?” Donald Trump Jr. retweeted the reply calling Soros a Nazi.
Barr is Jewish and a staunch defender of Israel’s government. But both replies to Clinton have discomfiting echoes in anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The lie that Soros collaborated with the Nazis stems from several weeks that he spent with a Hungarian official when he was 14 – a stay that his father arranged to protect his son. Most of the time was spent in the official’s apartment, but Soros accompanied the official, who supervised the confiscation of Jewish property after families were deported, on a single outing. The official introduced Soros as his godson and Soros did not participate in the inventory taking.
Soros also served two days as a courier for the Judenrat, until his father learned that his job was to deliver deportation notices to Jews. That account comes from a book written by Soros’ father, who also noted that his son warned the recipients not to turn up to the designated address.
That’s pretty much it, except that the folks peddling this account also twist Soros’ self-examination of how he as a boy reacted to the Nazi occupation into claims that he enjoyed it. Snopes demolished that claim on its website.
Soros’ son, Alexander Soros, responded to Barr’s comments by writing an Op-Ed in the New York Daily News, called “Roseanne Barr’s lies about my father George Soros are an insult to all who survived the Holocaust.”
Soros Jr. wrote: “It is shameful that, in 2017, over 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, heads of state, celebrities and pundits alike are using anti-Semitic rhetoric and lies to attack my father. I hope that the next generation of world leaders, public intellectuals and entertainers won’t stoop so low. Roseanne Barr’s claims are not just an insult to my father, but all those who endured the Holocaust.”
Much of the conspiracists’ case against Soros is based on an interview with “60 Minutes,” in which the billionaire said he didn’t feel guilty for the sometimes cold-blooded passivity demanded of a child who hoped to survive genocide.
“To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant,” said then-Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman in 2010, when it was talk show host Glenn Beck who was peddling the lie.
The problem with the “Soros as Nazi collaborator” falsehood is that, however inadvertently, it corresponds with a form of Holocaust denial that removes agency for the genocide from the Nazis and places it with their Jewish victims. “Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide” is classified as one form of denial by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
In February, Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, outraged Israeli officials when he said “there were Jewish perpetrators” in the Holocaust. Morawiecki’s defenders said his remarks were technically accurate, although experts noted that part of the Nazis’ cruelty was coercing powerless Jews to work against their own people under the threat of death or the false promise of leniency.
Barr’s other tweet, about Clinton’s actual father-in-law, is also problematic. Her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is Jewish and his father, Edward, a former congressman, did indeed serve time for bank fraud (although it was unrelated to his congressional term, which occurred decades earlier). There’s a whiff of “whatever, they’re all the same” in Barr’s sarcastic reply – “SO SORRY!” – to Clinton.
Also less noticed in Barr’s original tweet about Jarrett was the reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Jarrett is not a Muslim, but Barr has a history of hostility to Muslims. Barr initially tried to deflect on Twitter, saying “Muslims are not a race,” which ignored the anti-black racism in her original tweet.
ABC canceled Barr’s eponymous show, “Roseanne,” on Tuesday. “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” the network said in a statement.