Originally appeared at ZeroHedge
In a bizarre diplomatic development, none other than the state of Israel has branded billionaire philanthropist George Soros, one of Hillary Clinton’s most generous donors, a “threat”, accusing him of “continuously undermining Israel’s democratically elected governments” and saying that Soros-funded organizations “defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself”.
How did this escalation materialize?
It started in Hungary, where as we have repeatedly documented, Soros has emerged as one of the government’s most visible adversaries. Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew who has spent a large part of his fortune funding pro-democracy and human rights groups even as he has been accused of abusing taxpayer funds to organize the overthrow of “unfriendly” regimes, has repeatedly been targeted by Hungary’s right-wing government, in particular over his support for sending more migrants into Europe. Most recently, Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed a campaign in which Soros is singled out as “an enemy of the state”.
“Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh” say billboards next to a picture of the 86-year-old investor.
Soros, who rarely addresses personal attacks against him, has not commented on the billboards. But Hungarian Jewish groups and Human Rights Watch, an organization partly funded by Soros, have condemned the campaign, saying it “evokes memories of the Nazi posters during the Second World War”. And, as Reuters adds, many posters have been defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “stinking Jew” written in magic marker.
And this is where Israel’s bizarre intervention takes place.
Over the weekend, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary issued a statement denouncing the campaign, saying it “evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear”, a reference to Hungary’s part in the deportation of 500,000 Jews during the Holocaust. But hours after the ambassador’s comments, Israel’s foreign ministry issued a “clarification” saying that Soros was a legitimate target for criticism.
And, in what appears to have been an unprecedented diplomatic attack by Israel, the country’s foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that “in no way was the statement (by the ambassador) meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments,” adding that Soros funded organizations “defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself”.
Israel’s U-turn is confusing because it is normally quick to denounce anti-Semitism or threats to Jewish communities anywhere in the world. While it made that point in the statement, it chose to focus on the threat it believes Soros poses to Israeli democracy.
The foreign ministry’s unusual decision to issue a statement clarifying comments by one of its ambassadors comes days before Netanyahu, who also serves as Israel’s foreign minister, is scheduled to visit Orban.
According to Reuters, among the organizations Soros funds is Human Rights Watch, which is frequently critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward the Palestinians. And, like Hungary, Israel has passed legislation that seeks to limit the influence of non-governmental organizations that receive a large portion of their funding from abroad. In this case from Soros and his Open Society initiative.
Just as strange as Israel’s attack on Soros, is Netanyahu’s surprisingly close relationship to Hungary’s prime minister.
As Reuters writes, Israel and Hungary were briefly at odds last month after Orban praised Hungary’s World War Two leader Miklos Horthy, calling him an “exceptional statesman”. Horthy – an ally of Adolf Hitler who approved anti-Jewish legislation in the 1920s and 1930s – cooperated with the Germans in deporting Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.
While Israel initially expressed alarm over Orban’s remarks, it then quickly accepted the Hungarian government’s explanation that Orban had zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and was not suggesting everything Horthy did was positive.
The strong ties between Netanyahu and Orban have raised eyebrows all the way at the European Union, where Orban is regarded as an “illiberal maverick” and populist whose party has curtailed press freedom and stymied EU efforts to tackle the migrant crisis.
Ultimately, however, the explanation for Israel’s seemingly bizarre behavior may be simple: money and influence. Hungary has held discussions with Israel about purchasing high tech security fences to keep migrants out, estimated by some to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, while Israel has sought better ties with countries that it hopes will take its side in any EU discussions where Israel is criticized.