I had to check my glasses after reading the first sentence of an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday: “As a Holocaust survivor, a successful financier who embraces free-market capitalism and a philanthropist who champions liberal democracy, George Soros should be a darling of the Israeli establishment.”
The author of the piece, Mairav Zonszein, writes for +972, a far-left Israeli web magazine devoted almost entirely to anti-Israel coverage. Though all but ignored within Israel, +972 delights its foreign readers with the use, then equivocation about the use, and then still more use of the gross “Israeli apartheid” analogy.
But even still, Zonszein’s piece is unbelievable. Zonszein’s problem is that, unlike her, most Israelis do not want George Soros as their “darling.” Her explanation as to why is galling: “Mr. Soros has failed the only litmus test that seems to count for Israel’s current leadership: unconditional support for the government, despite its policies of occupation, discrimination and disregard for civil and human rights.”
This is rubbish. Israel is not concerned about Soros’s lack of “unconditional support for the government.” Rather, it detests the fact that he provides millions of dollars to organizations that seek to boycott, isolate, and delegitimize Israel.
For example, according to a leaked document, Soros’s Open Society Foundation has given at least $2,688,561 to a human-rights group called Adalah. Perhaps Zonszein would call Adalah merely “critical” of the Israeli government. But in reality, Adalah travels from international forum to international forum, accusing Israel of war crimes. It even calls on foreign governments to “sever or downgrade relations with Israel,” as Liel Liebowitz of Tablet has written.
Soros has given over $1 million to I’lam, a Palestinian media center that accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing and argues that “the practical meaning of the Nakba,” an Arabic term for the creation of Israel, “undermines the moral and ethical foundation of Zionism and, hence, of the State of Israel.” Soros himself wrote that Zionism “just doesn’t appeal to me,” in his 1995 book, Soros on Soros.
An NGO Monitor report from 2013 also revealed that Soros funds the Institute for Middle East Understanding and Mada al-Carmel, both of which call for international boycotts against Israel. He funds multiple organizations that specialize in suing Israel domestically and internationally, including Al-Haq, which is led by a senior activist of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
I could go on — Soros’s philanthropy sustains an echo chamber of groups that both oppose Israel at every turn and seek to undermine the U.S.–Israel relationship — but you get the point.
There is no mystery as to why Soros is despised in Israel: He is engaged in a campaign to subvert it from within and attack it from abroad. Soros’s foundation treats Israel like an adversary and a rogue state, to be targeted, pressured, and sanctioned. Soros has even publicly compared Israel to Nazi Germany, amateurishly contending that the victim has become the victimizer.
Is that a good enough reason for Zonszein? Or does she still believe that “George Soros should be a darling of the Israeli establishment”?
Zonszein’s article goes on to transform a mild statement from the Israeli foreign ministry into proof that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is backing or joining an anti-Semitic Hungarian campaign against Soros. On Twitter, Zonszein wrote: “I would almost go [sic] step further: Israel is anti-Semitic.”
Here the story gets a little complicated. The Israeli ambassador to Hungary had criticized Hungarian-government billboards for sowing “hatred and fear.” He called for them to be taken down. The billboards feature large pictures of Soros alongside the caption: “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh.” The Hungarian government, evidently, has its own quarrels with Soros.
Before Netanyahu’s visit to Hungary, the Israeli foreign ministry clarified that Israel had not “meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros” by the Hungarian government, but only to condemn anti-Semitism. The one-paragraph statement went on to note that Israel is itself not very happy with Soros, who funds groups that “defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”
This was an attempt to strike a responsible balance; Israel should condemn anti-Semitic implications but should not seek to otherwise interfere with Hungary’s domestic politics. The billboards could provoke anti-Semitism and thus should be reconsidered, the Israelis seemed to conclude, but of course Hungary should be allowed to criticize Soros.
From this evenhanded, commonsense position, taken to smooth over an Israeli state visit to Hungary, the New York Times jumps to publish Zonszein’s article, headlined “Israel’s War on George Soros.”
Soros is despised in Israel because he is engaged in a campaign to attack it.
But even this hides the radical nature of Zonszein’s claim, revealed at the end of her article. After stringing together a few misleading examples — in one, Netanyahu wisely failed to criticize Trump; in another, he said Israel is a home for threatened French Jews (I’ve heard Joe Biden say the same in America) — Zonszein concludes that “Netanyahu sees little value in safeguarding Jewish communities outside Israel, since he would prefer that Jews immigrate to Israel.” He has a project, you see, of eliminating the “daylight between Jewish identity and Israeli identity.”
This is sophistry. If Netanyahu doesn’t interfere in U.S. and Hungarian politics, it is because he doesn’t care about the Jewish diaspora. But if Netanyahu had intervened in the U.S., Zonszein could just as easily condemn him for conflating Jewish and Israeli identity. She could ask: What makes Netanyahu the voice of American Jewry?
Then the New York Times could publish an op-ed on its next-favorite subject, just behind criticizing Israel: the divide between Israel and American Jews.
— Elliot Kaufman is an editorial intern at National Review.