Opinion |

Volodymyr Zelenskyy Is the Antisemites’ New George Soros

Major media figures on the U.S. Right aren’t merely backing Putin, the white Christian savior, but attacking Zelenskyy as a 'globalist,' a threat to Ukraine and Western civilization. A familiar antisemitic narrative is undergoing a horrific expansion

Joshua Shanes
Joshua Shanes
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forcesCredit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool
Joshua Shanes
Joshua Shanes

"Racist enough for Fox News viewers to get the message but not so racist that The New York Times would have to acknowledge it."

That’s how The Nation correspondent Elie Mystal described the Republican attacks against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearings in the Senate this week.

In other words, it’s a dog whistle – a clear call to racists that excites them to action without overtly announcing to outsiders what they are doing – but one just audible enough for the rest of us to detect.

A similar phenomenon is happening vis-à-vis the Jews, with a growing chorus of voices, primarily, but not exclusively, on the Right, attacking "globalists," "cosmopolitans," and "international bankers," all classic euphemisms for Jews, and claiming they threaten the nation’s strength and identity. This has grown especially pronounced since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

These voices on the Right are not merely backing Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom they view as a white Christian savior fighting for racial and sexual purity, but are specifically attacking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (well known to be Jewish) as a "globalist" working to destroy his own country and even Western civilization itself.

A woman wears a shirt reading 'Trump Putin '16' while waiting for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a campaign event at Plymouth State University, New HampshireCredit: AP Photo/David Goldman

Earlier this month, for example, Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers called Zelenskyy a "globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons." Lest you have any doubt about her intention, she added, "I stand with the Christians worldwide not the global bankers who are shoving godlessness and degeneracy in our face."

She doubled up by attacking the Rothschild family, such an iconic ‘globalist’ target of antisemites of the modern era that their name functions as shorthand for anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists everywhere. Without using the word Jew, it is quite clear who she means.

Meanwhile, pro-Putin mouthpiece Douglas MacGregor – whom Trump nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Germany – said on Tucker Carlson's program that "in the United States, because we have a huge problem with a class of so-called elites, the people who are wealthy, very wealthy in many cases, and they are, as the Russians used to call certain individuals many, many years ago, rootless cosmopolitans.” Carlson – who regularly spouts antisemitic conspiracy theories – nodded along.

To be clear, "the Russians" talking about rootless cosmopolitans back then were clearly referring to Jews when they said that. It was the accusation that justified their eventual murder, most famously at the hands of Stalin after the Second World War.

Into the fray stepped popular right-wing provocateur Candace Owens – who in the past has defended Nazism, saying it was "fine" if "Hitler just wanted to make Germany great," but the problems began when he started to "globalize" – and has parroted Putin’s lie that Ukraine is a fake nation invented in 1989.

Owens recently tweeted, "Zelensky is working with globalists against the interests of his own people." When called out for using the antisemitic slur, she nonsensically, but predictably, responded by attacking her accuser as the real antisemite!

"Globalist" as antisemitic dog whistle had a long hearing during the period of the Trump administration, when Owens rose to prominence. Trump himself called Joe Biden a "servant of the globalists." In a headline, Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News even bracketed White House economic advisor Gary Cohn’s name with two globes. Right-wing provocateur Anne Coulter actually listed America's "globalists" – all of whom were Jews.

In short, Ukraine's Jewish president has become the new poster child of the so-called globalist conspiracy, often in conjunction with Soros, who himself has almost replaced the Rothschilds as the major "puppeteer" of the international Jewish conspiracy in the antisemitic imagination.

Almost, but not entirely: According to Fox Nation host Lara Logan this week, Charles Darwin was "hired" to "come up with some theory" by none other than the Rothschilds. To no one’s surprise, Logan also thinks Zelenskyy is a CIA "puppet," the Ukraine war is "exploited by evil, horrible people who want to rule over all of us and enslave us…we’re sitting at the gates of Auschwitz" and Putin "has been warning for 15 years that he is not going to stand by while the globalists take over the world."

As the Forward and the AJC accurately write, respectively, "The connection between globalists and Jews is, in part, the old antisemitic smear that Jews are not truly loyal citizens of any nation." "Hitler described Jews as 'international elements' that "conduct their business everywhere," thus harming and undermining good people who are "bound to their soil, to the Fatherland."

Fox News promo for Tucker Carlson's 'special' on Hungary and George Soros, whom he accuses of waging a "secret war" to destroy the West by making it "more dangerous, dirtier, less cohesive"Credit: Screenshot/YouTube

The individuals spreading and amplifying the Zelenskyy slur are not minor, ostracized individuals. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey raised over $500,000 for Rogers, a decision he still supports. Owens and Carlson are major media figures with millions of followers and viewers. Carlson is the most popular program on cable "news," and Owens has a regular show on Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire.

The line is coming from foreign governments as well. For example, a week ago, Yigit Bulut – a senior aide to Turkish President Erdogan – tweeted, "Let’s talk about the fact that Soros-backed Zelenskyy, pushed by Israel, is leading the Ukrainian people to death" while the Iranian government called Zelenskyy, "a Jewish follower of the hedonistic school" who is influenced by… Jeffrey Epstein, George Soros and other "rich Jews."

Perhaps American Jews have an easier time seeing the antisemitism when coming from Iran and explicitly mentioning rich Jews. But the language and intentional targeting are the same when they come from these voices on the American Right and are far more mainstream and dangerous here.

Does it appear on the Left? A little, though generally quite differently. The rhetoric of left-wing anti-capitalist anti-globalism can sometimes slide into antisemitism – Jeremy Corbyn’s support for an antisemitic mural of Jewish bankers comes to mind – but rarely focuses on Jewish names and even less on "Christian" values. That is certainly not the case for the right-wing, pro-nationalist opponents of "globalism," as the language of these personalities makes clear.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr ZelenskyyCredit: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Does Candace Owens and these other voices mean to stoke hatred against Jews? It strains credulousness to imagine they don’t know what "globalism" means after its constant repetition in conjunction with Jews for so many years, particularly once they connect it to Zelenskyy as a "globalist" traitor to his nation, or an opponent of Christian values.

Even if you doubt Owens’ understanding, even if she is just a fool who is picking up the dog whistles of her audience and blowing them as loud as she can for fame and profit, this is irrelevant. Their language evokes and stokes hatred of Jews, no matter what the intention of the person behind the bullhorn.

We have seen the right-wing frenzy against "globalists" led by Soros – a frenzy that feeds violence against Jews including the Tree of Life synagogue massacre – increase dramatically in recent years, particularly since Donald Trump picked up the mantra. Its expansion now to target Zelenskyy and celebrate Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a horrifying escalation.

The nationalist, antisemitic narrative of American grievance and scapegoating has now engulfed foreign policy too. It is an entire worldview that any future Republican presidential candidate will have to acknowledge, if not embrace altogether.

This should be the focus of any conversation about antisemitism in America. Those who choose to ignore it do so at their peril.

Joshua Shanes is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston and Director of its Arnold Center for Israel Studies

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