In recent years, George Soros has become the favorite super- villain of the right-wing leaders, being a scapegoat for the American right, and the autocratic leaders in the developing world.
He has been called “the most dangerous man in the world” by a conservative Polish MP, and demonized by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, while in Romania, Liviu Dragnea said Soros “financed evil”. Dragnea went even further than other political leaders by developing a story similar to a James Bond movie, where foreign killers financed by Soros were sent to
Romania to assassinate him.
In the US, radio host Alex Jones, a strong supporter of President Trump declared Soros as the mastermind behind the “Jewish mafia”.
Soros’ list of sworn enemies didn’t include only Central and Eastern European leaders, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu targeted the billionaire and his legacy. His son, Yair Netanyahu, even posted on his social media profile a meme which presented the financier as a mystic puppet- master.
Right- wingers insist that their animosity towards the Jewish financier has nothing to do with anti- Semitism and they adopt as their main argument the ongoing feud that Soros has with Benjamin Netanyahu. Populists support their logic by insisting that Israel’s PM can’t be antiSemitic and yet he still clashes with Soros.
Decades ago the hatred towards the Jewish billionaire was displayed through isolated incidents, empowering right-wing nationalists who had limited power; however, today, the denigration has become a mass phenomenon, moving from the margins to the mainstream, reaching peak performance during the 2018 midterm elections in the US.
In the final weeks before the midterm elections, President Trump tweeted that the individuals who were protesting against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court were “paid for by Soros”.
Trump wasn’t the only Republican who went to war against the Jewish philanthropist. Former House Speaker John Dennis Hastert asserted that Soros’s affluence “came from financing drug cartels overseas”.
Actor James Woods adopted on Twitter the hashtag #SorosForPrison while asking President Trump to jail Soros. He even said that the Jewish billionaire was a “Nazi collaborator”, a malign slander founded on the billionaire’s childhood experience when Soros and his family sheltered their Jewish identity by posing as Christians to escape the Holocaust and avoid death in concentration camps.
How did Soros, a former symbol of democracy and liberal values become the boogeyman of the right-wingers?
Scholars agree that the anti- Soros campaign began in Hungary with the rise to power of the ethno-populism movement. The conservative nationalism which currently is associated with Fidesz (a former anti-communist party) is widely seen as a Viktor Orbán entity.
But despite Viktor Orbán’s current animosity towards Soros, their relationship goes back to 1989, when the Jewish billionaire funded a scholarship for Viktor Orbán to study at Oxford Univeristy.
Decades later, the Jewish philanthropist made a $1m donation to Orban’s government for an initiative which targeted the “red sludge” environmental disaster. Soros’ commitment to his native Hungary didn’t stop at these isolated incidents and over the decades through the Open Society Foundation (OSF) he has donated hundreds of millions of dollars for education, culture
and civil society programmes.
In spite of Soros’ close relationship with Viktor Orbán, years later, it came down to their political division, with Soros choosing progressivism and Orbán a Putin- inspired populism. This fraction transformed Soros into Orbán’s prime political target, culminating with the 2015 migrant crisis.
Their animosity had as collateral victim the Central European University, a distinguished educational institution founded by Soros that was targeted by Orbán. Additionally, the OSF had to close down its operations in Budapest due to the government’s ill-treatment, and a draconic “Stop Soros” bill was implemented, targeting human rights activists and political opponents who
collaborate with Soros on immigration issues. The bill is written in such broad terms, that it gives government almost absolute powers to jail opponents and close down civil society organizations that turn on Mr. Orbán’s government.
Exporting the anti- Soros sentiment to the US
Using prominent Jewish financiers (e.g.: the Rothschilds) as antiheroes is a theme used in the past by nationalist governments. Economic antisemitism uses stereotypes and popular anxieties and creates a common enemy which can be defeated only by a strong (authoritarian) government.
The paranoid style in politics goes hand in hand with populism and it serves to rationalize an array of authoritarian policies like the attack on the media freedom. This rhetoric seemed destined to peripheral societies and for decades, political science scholars believed that such antidemocratic overtones couldn’t be promoted in Washington.
Today, the American public is widely divided on Soros. The left sees him as a tireless advocate for human rights and economic reform, while the right-wing see in him a controversial figure who rose to power by betting against national currencies.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Breitbart’s editor, Steve Bannon will create a right-wing foundation that will balance Open Society Foundation in Europe by bringing together all the right- wing political fractions across the continent. The non- profit organization called “The Movement” intends to attract Euroskeptics and populists. Steve Bannon’s foundation reveals the
Transatlantic ties between populists in Trump’s era, demonstrating that the nationalist movement will boost its influence even further. It’s safe to say that George Soros and those who pledged support for progressive movements and liberal democracies are in for the fight of their lives.