A caravan of brown-skinned migrants is crossing Mexico on the way to the US border. They must be financed by somebody, mustn’t they? Who could be behind this conspiracy? “I don’t know who,” President Donald Trump has said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised” if it were: George Soros.
That sounds utterly plausible to Viktor Orbán in today’s “illiberal” (read: proto-fascist) Hungary. Orbán thinks he knows exactly who conspired to cause the 2015 refugee crisis, sending hordes of brown-skinned aliens to overwhelm the nations of the Occident: George Soros.
George Soros. He was born in Budapest as György Schwartz into a Jewish family that passed as Christian to survive the Holocaust. Later he fled the communists to London, where he was mentored by Karl Popper, the great philosopher of “the open society and its enemies.” Later again, Soros made it big on Wall Street. In 1992 he bet against sterling and won; in 1998, he bet against the Thai baht and won again.
You can like or dislike financiers. But there is nothing to be ashamed of in Soros’ career. His trade is arbitrage, the lubricant of capitalism, and he happens to be awfully good at it. And like so many rich Americans (he has been a US citizen since 1961), he gives away a lot of his money. His chosen causes include democracy, free speech, and liberal values.
Now let us count the ways in which the haters hate him, and let us name the origins of their hate. Soros is a Jew, a rich capitalist, and a “globalist” cosmopolitan who resides in the world’s financial centers. To overt and covert anti-Semites everywhere, Soros thus taps into a narrative. It is that of “Die Rothschilds,” a Nazi propaganda film from 1940. In it, a Jewish financier in Frankfurt – greedy, usurious, amoral – uses his networks in London, Paris and elsewhere to profit from the suffering of Europe’s gentiles during the Napoleonic wars.
The perfidy of Orbán and his ilk is that they needn’t make their anti-Semitism explicit. It is enough to plaster, as Orbán has done, Soros’ face on campaign posters, with the caption: “Let’s not allow him to have the last laugh.” The posters might as well have quoted “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” fake news that has since 1903 spawned the myth of a Jewish world conspiracy. Instead, the propaganda merely “dog-whistles” to the intended audience. And the audience gets it.
It is a sign of our times that Soros is in a sort of retreat. He has recently moved his university from Budapest to Vienna, and his foundation from Budapest to Berlin. When you hear slanders against Soros, you should think of Alfred Dreyfus, the French artillery officer who was wrongly convicted of espionage in 1894 because he was Jewish. When you read about a pipe bomb sent to Soros’ address in New York, you should recall Walter Rathenau, a Jewish foreign minister of Germany who was assassinated by right-wing nationalists in 1922.
George Soros has become the canary in the coal mine of our imperiled liberties. If we don’t defend him now, next time they will come for us.
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