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Anti-Soros campaign across Europe is drenched in antisemitism

Populist leaders stirring up hate against the billionaire philanthropist

    A campaign against American-Hungarian billionaire George Soros has taken on a distinctly antisemitic tone in Europe.

    Born George Schwartz in Budapest in 1930, the Holocaust survivor and global philanthropist has given away more than $12billion to date, according to his official website.

    However, the 86-year-old has been subjected to a campaign of demonisation across central Europe, where nationalists have accused him of using his money to force through his liberal values.

    The former hedge fund investor, who survived the Holocaust by hiding with a non-Jewish family, has even come in for criticism from elected officials in his former homeland.

    Mr Soros' donations have advanced human rights, the rule of law, public health, LGBT and Roma rights, education and transportation. Many of the leaders turning against him now — including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — got scholarships from Mr Soros in the 1990s to study in the West or received research grants, according to the Associated Press (AP).

    In 2012, Poland's then-president, Bronislaw Komorowski, bestowed one of the country's highest orders on Mr Soros, thanking him for his contributions to a democratic civil society after Communism.

    But the tide has turned in central Europe since then. Three years later a far-right nationalist set fire to an effigy of an Orthodox Jew at an anti-refugee rally in Poland. The man, according to the protestor, represented Mr Soros.

    In Romania Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, has said Mr Soros and his work "fed evil in Romania."

    He has been dubbed “the most dangerous man in the world” by Krystyna Pawlowicz, a lawmaker with the ruling conservatives in Poland, who claims his foundations "finance anti-Christian and anti-national activities".

    Meanwhile Orban has described Mr Soros as an "American financial speculator attacking Hungary". He has taken steps that could force the closure of the acclaimed Central European University, which the philanthropist founded in 1991.

    Earlier this month, far-right activists in Budapest targeted a Jewish community centre that serves as the headquarters of several ethnic and refugee activist groups, filming themselves as they put up defaced posters of Mr Soros.

    The video was filmed outside the Aurora community centre by members of the far-right Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement and posted online by ultranationalist media.

    The activists spray-painted anti-Soros slogans on the sidewalk outside Aurora’s entrance.

    Reserach by the Hungary-based Action and Protection Foundation revealed that anti-Jewish attitudes are strong amongst a fifth of people and that antisemitism is most common among low-paid middle-aged men.

    The level of antisemitism in Hungary is higher than in several Western European countries. The survey of 1,200 people found that more than half (57 per cent) of 'Jobbik' voters are open to antisemitic ideas. Meanwhile almost one in five people (18 per cent) openly express the demand for emigration of the Jews.

    The verbal attacks smack of age-old antisemitic conspiracies, according to Jacek Kucharczyk, a sociologist and director of the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw.

    "It is a witch hunt that is being promoted by authoritarian right-wing populists,” he said.

    "Because he promotes liberal values, has a Jewish background and is a billionaire, he is the perfect figure for explaining to hard-core voters why the world is the way it is.”

    Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, said he found Orban’s language antisemitic and was “appalled”.

    Laura Silber, a spokeswoman at Soros' Open Society Foundations, said: "Orban is using George Soros as a scapegoat in an effort to deflect attention from issues of real importance to the Hungarian people, such as the country's deteriorating health care and education."

    Rafal Pankowski, head of Never Again, an anti-racism organization in Warsaw, says the "current tendency to see Soros as a central figure in an alleged global Jewish conspiracy" is growing along with a rise in xenophobia and hate speech.

    In Macedonia, many right-wingers blame Mr Soros for a political crisis over a massive illegal wiretapping operation of top leaders that has revealed wrongdoing. A group called Stop Operation Soros, or SOS, emerged in January.

    Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights group, sees the rhetoric as "reminiscent of previous antisemitic patterns".

    He added: "This is not to say that Soros should be above criticism. But there are certainly other elements involved that go beyond legitimate and specific criticism and focus on his Jewish roots.”

     

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