Has Viktor Orban, the populist, Jew-baiting prime minister of Hungary, been invited by the proprietors of London isolationist anti-European press to be their guest editor?
In Poland, the ultra-Catholic rightist nationalist leader, Jarosław Kaczynski, is pushing through a law which will make it a crime, including fines and imprisonment, to state the historical truth that during the Nazi occupation of Poland, there were some Poles who committed anti-Semitic acts, denounced Polish Jews to the Gestapo, and in the village of Jedwabne, herded Jews into a building and set it alight.
These are well-documented facts and Princeton Professor Jan Gross, himself a victim of the last purge of Jews in Poland in 1968, when the communist regime expelled thousands of mainly young Jewish students as trouble-makers and subversives, has written magisterial books on this dark side of Polish history.
In Hungary, Viktor Orban has launched an extraordinary attacks on George Soros, the 87-year-old Hungarian-American Jew who became fabulously rich but since his retirement from active investing has poured millions into his Open Society Foundations. This, like any number of liberal endowments, supports freedom of speech, independent scholarship, universities free of state or big-business control, women’s rights, liberal market democratic ideas, free elections, and all the gamut of desirable end results that were meant to emerge after the end of communism nearly three decades ago.
The objectives are all worthy and in the their different ways supported by the European Union, the Council of Europe, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Europe, the German Marshall Fund, and a long list of foundations set up by successful business leaders who wanted to do good and not just pass on their fortune to their children or younger wives.
But for Orban and other rightist nationalist European leaders, the grants from Open Society to the Central European University in Budapest and to other campaigns supporting liberal values and causes like rights for women or media freedom is a direct political interference in this right to run Hungary the way he thinks best. To get a flavor of where Hungary is heading, read District 8, the political thriller by the Budapest-based British journalist, Adam Lebor. It’s fiction, but only a few steps ahead of the facts that Orban is trying to establish on the ground as he tries to fashion a Hungary that shuts its door to incomers, is anti-Muslim, demands a patriotic nationalist interpretation of history, lays irredentist claim to large chunks of Romania and Slovenia, and requires journalists to promote the Orban line.
Soros and his Open Society Foundations provide an alternative voice. He doesn’t campaign politically against Orban, and the failure of Hungarian liberals and social democrats to organize an effective vote-winning coalition against Orban cannot be replaced by grant money from Soros.
Soros survived the fascistic Admiral Horthy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis in exterminating Hungary Jewry, went to the London School of Economics as a 17-year-old in 1948, and then on to America.
One might have thought Hungary and Orban would have feted their fellow Hungarian and his incredible success in the Western capitalist system.
But instead, Orban covered Hungary with giant posters of Soros like something of 1984’s Hate Week against Emmanuel Goldstein—the Leon Trotsky look-alike Orwell depicted as the number one enemy of Big Brother and a Jew to boot.
Open Society put out a statement accusing Orban of “employing anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the 1930s.” The posters of Soros’s face with its striking central European Jewish characteristics were spray-painted with insults like “Stinking Jew,” and Hungarians did not need Ph.D.s in prewar anti-Jewish history to get the point Orban was trying to make.
The Hungarian strongman took down his posters just before the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last July. But now exactly the same kind of attacks have been launched in Britain against Soros because he refuses to bow to the Tory ideology of anti-Europeanism, or fall in obediently behind Rupert Murdoch and other owners or controllers of the British media who are obsessed with amputating Britain from Europe.
There are many reasons why 37 percent of the total EU electorate voted to cut Britain’s links with Europe in June 2016, but an important factor was a quarter of a century of non-stop propaganda against Europe by Murdoch, who intensely disliked EU rules promoting trade union rights and blocking monopoly media power.
Murdoch, like Soros, is an American citizen, and other papers owned by men who pay no or few taxes in the United Kingdom, like the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, have been campaigning non-stop against Europe in their news and comment columns.
Now the Telegraph may have gone a step too far. Furious with support given by Soros and his Open Society Foundations to outfits campaigning for the right of the British people to be consulted on the terms on which the Theresa May government takes Britain out of Europe, the Telegraph printed a whole front page with a giant picture of a leering, smirking Soros and a mixture of news and comment arguments attacking him as an unwanted outsider trying to interfere in British politics.
Stephen Pollard, the right-wing editor of The Jewish Chronicle, the principal weekly paper read in most Jewish households in Britain, joined with The Guardian’s respected political columnist, the left-liberal Rafael Behr, in protesting about the front page, which was partly penned by May’s adviser and confidante, Nicholas Timothy, a fanatical anti-European.
It is necessary to state that there is no evidence that Timothy or the Telegraph editors who wrote the copy and chose the headlines and the shaded photo have any record of anti-Semitism. As Rafael Behr wrote: “There is no one specific line or picture or adjective or omission that can be held up as cast-iron proof. There is no single moment where the line is crossed. There is no clause or adjective from which the anti-Semitic smoke rises as from the barrel of gun. And yet a modicum of cultural awareness and a glancing acquaintance with old Jew-hatred and its modern iterations would have alerted a half-decent editor to the signal being sent by that front page.”
Behr continued in a column that went viral. “In case there is no such person at the Telegraph to decrypt that signal let me spell it out for them. It was this: shadowy Jew-financier conspires against Britain. That might not seem obvious to many readers. It might even sound a little paranoid. But I am very confident that two audiences understood it instantly and very clearly in exactly those terms. One was anti-Semites, the other was Jews. The first group cheered, the second recoiled in horror.”
Of course, no one ever admits to being an anti-Semite. Leadership figures in the Labour Party insist they are not anti-Semitic and they are not. But there is anti-Semitism to be found in some militant activists in Labour Party membership. Every week in mainstream accurate newspapers, there are reports of an anti-Semitic outburst at a Labour Party meeting or an ugly tweet or Facebook comments directed at Jews or Jewish causes. Many loyal Labour Party members, MPs, and senior supporters are desperately worried that the failure of the leadership to deal robustly with any expression of hate against the Jewish people—often coded as anti-Zionism or support for Islamist organization that have in their charters crude anti-Jewish language—are losing Labour its traditional support in the Jewish community.
We have been here before. Twenty-five years ago, London was shocked by a casual racist murder by four white men who killed a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence. The police, some of whom were linked to the killer, failed to conduct an effective inquiry. They were all white. What was one fewer black on the street? After the brutal murder and the cover-up by the Metropolitan Police, the incoming Labour government in 1997 set up an official inquiry. Its chair, Sir William McPherson, described the “institutional racism” of Scotland Yard, which meant the white police failed to do proper detective work on the dead black boy. He also argued that it was the victim, not the perpetrator of a racist (or anti-Semitic) insult or attack, who should define whether it was racist or anti-Semitic.
I chaired an all-party committee of inquiry into anti-Semitism after 2005, and the MPs on it accepted—as did the government—the McPherson definition of it being defined by the injured or hurt person, not by the writer or assailant.
So while everyone on the Telegraph no doubt sincerely believes they cannot possibly produce any story, headline, or lay-out that might worry or disturb Jews, they cannot be the judges, as respected public figures like Raphael Behr and Stephen Pollard, as well as many others, feel alarmed.
As Philip Stephens, the chief political columnist on the Financial Times, noted: “Efforts to discredit Mr Soros, often tinged with more than a hint of anti-Semitism, have reached fever pitch in Hungary” and “prompted widespread condemnation from Jewish groups,” as Hungary’s populist and EU-critical leader, Viktor Orban, “has deployed all the anti-Semitic tropes in the attempt to discredit Mr. Soros.”
Stephens has just returned from a study period in Berlin, where he was exposed to the nastier elements of Central European populism. The arrival of Orban-like hate against Soros worries the FT correspondent. “Nicholas Timothy, a former senior adviser to Theresa May, wrote that Mr. Soros was financing a campaign to bring down the prime minister and the Conservative government in order to scupper Brexit.”
In 1992, Soros famously bet billions in his investment fund against the pound sterling staying in the European Union’s Exchange Rate Mechanism, which linked together different European currencies like the Deutschmark, French franc, or Dutch guilder at fixed rates prior to the introduction of the euro.
British Conservative finance ministers, none qualified or competent economists, had locked the pound into the Exchange Rate Mechanism at too high a rate. As the U.K. economy in the post-Thatcher 1990s hit the rocks, the pound was clearly over-valued and Soros cleaned up big time when the then-Chancellor Norman Lamont was forced to take sterling out of the ERM.
It was a national humiliation, an enforced devaluation that symbolized the end of the greed and easy winnings from fire-sale privatizations of Thatcher-era capitalism.
That was the moment when previously Europhile Tories like Lamont and his predecessor, Nigel Lawson, turned bitter and sour against Europe. In Freudian terms, it was pure transference. The Lawson-Lamont failure to manage the economy and public finances so as to maintain budget, debt, and deficit equilibrium was the main cause for the ERM debacle, which destroyed the reputation for economic competence for the remainder of the Tory government from 1992 to 1997.
But Soros’s intervention and the ERM debacle ensure the United Kingdom never got close to abolishing the pound in favor of the euro now used by 19 EU member states. The yo-yo unstable pound of the 1990s with Britain being outside the ERM, a precondition for Euro entry, meant that independently of Tony Blair’s 1997 manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on Euro entry, the chances of the pound fusing with continental money into the single currency were zero by 1997.
Soros, it can be argued “saved” Britain, from the Euro. Rather than blackguarding him, the Tory Brexiters should see him as one of their heroes!
But of course, the Brexit journalism of the Telegraph and the Daily Mail comes straight from the 1930s news manuals of the pro-Nazi appeasement paper owned by rich proprietors who liked to dictate to elected politicians. The hate against European immigrants today has similarities to the tirades in the Daily Mail in the 1930s against allowing Jewish refugees form Nazi Germany to enter Britain.
British readers of the anti-European press have gotten used to screaming giant headlines denouncing SABOTEURS or TRAITORS to describe parliamentarians or jurists who raise questions about Brexit.
Their nonsense about Soros being a secret conspirator trying to overthrow governments is out of the standard prewar conspiracy protocols of the Elders of the Open Society. In fact, the first Open Society Foundations donation for the anti-Brexit campaign outfit, Best for Britain, was made only in June 2017. In the last tranche, there was 86,000 pounds for a Tory think-tank, Bright Blue. The Open Society Foundation has an impressive record of donating money for pro-market, liberal, rule-of-law, free media causes.
Compared with the billions that the American-Australian “foreigner” Rupert Murdoch has poured—and, along with the off-shore-owned Daily Telegraph or Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail, is still pouring—into the campaign to do serious constitutional, economic, and geopolitical damage to Britain and the 63 percent of voters who did not vote for Brexit, the donation by Soros is a pittance.
Of course, the Soros donation to a Tory think-tank does not get a mention nor does the fact these donations date back several months. For the Telegraph, all normal news values, fact-checking, rounding out the story, and being ultra-careful given the non-stop anti-Semitic attacks on Soros, notably in Hungary, were thrown overboard for the sake of a cheesy front page.
The Telegraph/Mail/Sun attacks on Soros show how the anti-European propagandists have to crawl in the gutter to find stories and excitable front pages. They resort to anti-Soros denunciations because the economic news on Brexit just gets worse and worse. Latest leaked government economic estimates show that the regional economies of England’s northeast and west Midlands regions face double-digit GDP drops in the event of the United Kingdom leaving the Customs Union and Single Market.
The Irish government in Dublin is desperately fearful of the destruction of the Good Friday Agreement if May repudiates the open border upon leaving the EU’s Customs Union. In a remarkable break with the ultra-discreet norms of Japanese diplomacy, Tokyo’s ambassador in London left a meeting with May and, on the steps of Downing Street, warned that Japanese automakers—Nissan, Toyota, Honda—will pull out of Britain as they lose money upon the United Kingdom leaving the Customs Union and Single Market.
The Brexit vote is generating considerable apprehension and anxiety in economic circles. British capitalism is now in undeclared conflict with ruling Tory circles as every sector of British business, from the City to key foreign investors, looks with fear at the idea of cutting access to the EU’s Single Market of 450 million middle class consumers.
Combined with the almost permanent incoherence and chaos in government on Brexit and the civil war in the Tory Party, one can sense all belief that Brexit is good for Britain ebbing away.
That does not translate automatically into a reversal of Brexit. It will take more time and a lot more evidence before anyone will risk a new referendum. But the tide is going out on the Tory-UKIP lies that won the June 2016 plebiscite.