This post first appeared at The Nation.
On Aug. 31, convicted felon and right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza tweeted that he thought it would be “interesting to see” the liberal financier and philanthropist George Soros “extradited to Israel & tried for his complicity in Nazi atrocities against Jews.”
As he hawks his most recent book, The Big Lie — ironically, a near-perfect description of its contents, which claim to reveal the Nazi roots of the American left — D’Souza has tweeted countless versions of this particular big lie. With childish faux cleverness, he refers to Soros as “Hitler’s collection boy” and claims that Soros “literally worked for Hitler.” Right-wing talk-radio shows, websites and even a Republican gubernatorial candidate from Pennsylvania have parroted lines from his anti-Soros campaign.
D’Souza told a right-wing talk-show host that he was “delighted to uncover” Soros’s history. But, as with almost every alleged discovery made by pro-Trump partisans, it is not only factually false and morally reprehensible; it is also old news. The charge has already been made by such far-right luminaries as Glenn Beck, David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, and Tony Blankley (who retracted it after I asked him to back it up). Perhaps most shamefully of all, former New Republic owner and editor Marty Peretz smeared Soros, calling him “a young cog in the Hitlerite wheel.”
The microscopic kernel of truth in the accusation lies in the fact that Soros survived the Holocaust as a 14-year-old child in Budapest because he was hidden by a Ministry of Agriculture official who had a Jewish wife. Soros’ father, Tivadar Soros, helped protect her, and in return the official agreed to let George pretend to be his Christian godson. On one occasion, rather than be left alone in Budapest for three days, the young teen accompanied the official, who was sent to inventory the estate of a Jewish family that had fled the country. That’s it. The details of this episode are readily available and were covered in Michael Kaufman’s 2002 book Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire. (I have also written about it in the past.)
The Soros slander appears to derive from a bizarre 60 Minutes interview conducted by Steve Kroft nearly 20 years ago. In his introduction, Kroft intoned: “While hundreds of thousands of Jews were being shipped off to the death camps, George Soros accompanied his phony godfather on his appointed rounds, confiscating property from the Jews.” The accompanying footage showed masses of Hungarian Jews being led away at gunpoint as Kroft spoke. Then he turned to Soros accusingly: “My understanding is you went out with this protector of yours, who swore you were his adopted godson … went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from Jews.” Clearly flummoxed by the moral and intellectual imbecility of the inquiry, Soros offered a stumbling response that failed to clarify the truth.
Soros, as is well-known, is a billionaire banker and major funder of liberal causes. As such, he represents a near-perfect target for anti-Semites seeking to purvey the same sort of poison that has historically characterized propaganda like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The fact that anti-Semitism has become a key element in exciting the passions of “populist” conservatives both here and abroad explains why so many far-right figures are willing to embrace it, regardless of the degree to which it stirs sleeping hatreds and imperils vulnerable Jewish communities. The most worrisome recent manifestation comes from the Hungarian government, which launched a poster campaign featuring a photograph of a smiling Soros with the warning “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh” beneath the words: 99 percent reject illegal immigration.
Aware of Hungary’s history in the Holocaust and the fears of its remaining Jewish community, the Israeli ambassador, Yossi Amrani, complained to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: “The campaign not only evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear…. It’s our moral responsibility to raise a voice and call on the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle.” Incredibly, Amrani’s own government implicitly rebuked him by having his statement “clarified.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a visit to Hungary scheduled, and he shares with Orbán — and, of course, with Donald Trump — a commitment to xenophobic fearmongering as a means of shunting aside accusations of corruption, dishonesty and dysfunction. The Israeli Foreign Ministry immediately issued a statement accusing Soros of “continuously undermining Israel’s democratically elected governments” by funding organizations “that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.” Thus, because Soros is a critic of Israeli policies, the government that claims to represent the Jewish people excused an anti-Semitic campaign against a Holocaust refugee conducted by the leader of a nation that participated in the Holocaust. Let that one sink in for a minute.
As with almost everything in American politics today, the charges against Soros are not really about Soros, much less what a 14-year-old boy did on one day during the German occupation of Hungary. D’Souza thinks that “former Nazi collaborator George Soros should be investigated as a sponsor of domestic terrorism” for his alleged sponsorship of antifa. Neither Soros nor his foundations support antifa in any way, but never mind that: At last count, more than 138,000 idiots had signed a petition at whitehouse.gov demanding that President Trump “declare George Soros a terrorist and seize all of his related organizations’ assets under RICO and NDAA law.” Incredibly, this is where our politics has taken us in 2017, a time when the murderous madness that seized so much of Europe in the 1930s and ’40s appears to be repeating itself — farcically, perhaps, but dangerously nevertheless.