Ben Weich

Were Jacob Rees-Mogg's Soros comments antisemitic? Not for the reason you think

Many of us were quick to attack the Brexiter's comments on George Soros's political donations - but the real prejudice may require us to look closer, writes Ben Weich

October 04, 2019 16:18

Sometimes, we in the Jewish community have the tendency to see antisemitism where it does not exist – or at least where it does not probably exist.

That was the JC’s view when we decided not to publish Jacob Rees-Mogg’s remarks about George Soros on Thursday – despite Lord Alf Dubs accusing him of copying “the far-right’s antisemitic playbook”, and calling for his head.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg pointed to the investor’s record as a financial contributor to anti-Brexit movements – which was seized upon as an echo of antisemitic tropes of the Jewish puppet master manipulating global politics from the shadows.

People assumed that Mr Rees-Mogg was appealing to racists by pointing out Mr Soros’s political contributions.

This is an interpretation you can only make in extreme bad faith – especially when you consider the context of his words.

The leader of the House of Commons was actually responding to a challenge by his opposite number, Valerie Vaz, over the integrity of his friend and political ally Crispin Odey, a hedge fund manager who Ms Vaz said “made £220 million overnight” shorting the pound, as a result of the currency’s slump immediately after the 2016 referendum.





Mr Rees-Mogg brought up the fact that Mr Soros himself made an estimated $1 billion profit when he speculated against the pound, back in 1992 during the Black Wednesday crisis.

Effectively what he said was: “How dare you question my friend Crispin’s conduct when Mr Soros, who has made no secret of his financial support of anti-Brexit groups, has also profited from the collapse of our currency?”

It’s not exactly an intelligent point – Mr Odey has been accused of funding a political movement from which he has directly profited. But antisemitic? Not necessarily.

When I spoke to Lord Dubs, one of the community’s great ambassadors, he said he responded as he did because of the antisemitic attacks Mr Soros regularly faces in Hungary, the country of his birth, from Viktor Orbán and others – and sensed that “Rees-Mogg was picking those up”.

But he also graciously admitted that he may have “rushed into it a bit, as one does sometimes.”

Some of the left were quick to jump on Mr Rees-Mogg’s words – and to question the JC for not covering it – but it seems they may have seen something that wasn’t there.

Indeed, this same tendency can sometimes be seen when scrutinising figures in the Labour Party.

But interestingly, there may actually be a sinister element to Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments which has completely passed everyone by.

His description of Mr Soros as the “remoaner funder-in-chief” – as crude and tedious as it is – can be defended by Mr Soros’s support for Best for Britain, which was established after the 2016 referendum.

(The investor has, by the way, made no secret of his donations to the group, saying his opposition to Brexit is borne of nothing but his affection for the UK)

But, crucially, Mr Rees-Mogg also claimed Mr Soros was “one of the major funders – allegedly – of the Remain campaign”, for which there seems to be absolutely no evidence for.

Neither Mr Soros nor his Open Society Foundations are listed by the Electoral Commission as donors to the official Remain campaign.

It is possible, in theory, that he could have indirectly helped the campaign – although there doesn’t seem to be any proof of this in the public domain.

Accordingly, no credible media outlets have reported that Mr Soros gave any financial backing to the official Remain effort.

None of his critics seem to have picked up on that point.

So why does Mr Rees-Mogg assume this is the case? Could he perhaps be susceptible to antisemitic prejudice?

The JC has invited the Conservative Party and his office to clarify his claim.

Calling Mr Rees-Mogg an antisemite simply for pointing to a wealthy Jew's financial contributions to foreign political movements is not necessarily antisemitic.

But assuming he funded the official 2016 Remain campaign – with no basis – may indeed have come from a dark place.

Perhaps, the lesson we should draw from this is to avoid the trap of seeing antisemitism everywhere. Instead of immediately jumping in two-footed, it may be more sensible to take a deep breath, consider context and actually think about what’s been said.

Because when we do, we may find the real prejudice we’ve been looking for all along.

October 04, 2019 16:18

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