Editor’s Note: Lev Golinkin writes on refugee and immigrant identity, as well as Ukraine, Russia and the far right. He is the author of the memoir “A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Monday evening, as American Jews gathered to celebrate the second night of Hanukkah, news broke of Rudy Giuliani’s anti-Semitic tirade against billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
The remarks, which came during an alcohol-laden interview with New York Magazine, cap off a long, alarming year for anti-Semitism both in the United States and abroad.
Indeed, the most dangerous thing about living at a time of constant stories about anti-Semitism is how quickly the hatred is normalized. Two and a half years ago, chants of “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Virginia, stunned America; today, anti-Semitism is just a part of the news cycle.
And so, as we take stock after this latest news, it’s time to face three uncomfortable truths. First, despite his claims, Giuliani’s comments are unmistakably anti-Semitic. Second, this anti-Semitism is not merely vile but dangerous: The anti-Soros tropes like those evoked by Giuliani may tacitly encourage those prone to violence, resulting in Jewish bodies on the streets. Most disturbingly, we can’t write this off as the inebriated ravings of a single man. Everything Giuliani said had been repeated, over and over, by President Donald Trump, by Republican lawmakers and by Fox News hosts.
Of course, today’s surge of anti-Semitism isn’t limited to Republicans; the problem is widespread. Some of the leaders of the Women’s March have been plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism and a horrific kosher market attack in Jersey City earlier this month is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism thought to be fueled in part by a hatred of Jews, according to the state attorney general.
But the proliferation of anti-Semitic tropes in the GOP is so worrying precisely because it’s widespread and systematic. By now, there’s enough evidence to say that, in much of today’s Republican Party, anti-Semitic tropes are not an irregularity but a feature.
Giuliani’s attack runs the anti-Semitic gamut, from medieval accusations of Soros not being truly religious (similar slurs were used during the Spanish Inquisition, which led to the torture and forced conversion of Jews) to claims that Soros controlled a US ambassador and “elected” district attorneys – which builds on the classic anti-Semitic trope of powerful Jews controlling the government.
Giuliani’s baseless accusation – indeed, the GOP’s obsession with Soros – is the embodiment of modern anti-Semitism, which is, at its root, a conspiracy theory: the belief that Jews are secretly undermining white nations by manipulating ideology, media, money and immigration.
Over the past 300 years, anti-Semites on both sides of the Atlantic have tirelessly spread this deadly lie, tweaking it to suit their needs. To the Russian czars as well as American anti-Semites like Henry Ford and Joseph McCarthy, the Jews were responsible for bringing communism in order to destroy their nations.
The Nazis used this conspiracy to blame Jews for orchestrating Germany’s loss in World War I; today’s white terrorists like the Pittsburgh shooter use it to claim Jews are bringing in immigrants to turn America into a white-minority state.
Every conspiracy theory needs a “them,” the shadowy puppet master pulling the strings. In the 1800s, it was Baron Nathan Rothschild, the original Soros, a businessman accused of manipulating European currency. Henry Ford focused his anti-Semitic tracts on the Warburg family and their advocacy for the Federal Reserve system.
Today’s Jewish bogeyman of choice is Soros. And, according to a number of prominent Republicans, Soros is everywhere.
In the wake of the horrific Parkland school shooting, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre exploded in an entire dog-whistle concerto, accusing globalists and Soros of plotting to take away Americans’ guns. Congressman Steve King stated that Soros is bringing immigrants to America; the same conspiracy theory was given by the Tree of Life shooter as his motivation for massacring 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. Theories of Soros being behind Black Lives Matter, Trump’s impeachment, and protests against the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court have proliferated in the past several years.
The embrace of anti-Semitism posing as anti-Soros conspiracies has gone far beyond the fringe. It’s easy to dismiss the Pittsburgh terrorist or even King and Giuliani as outliers. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has also propagated the Soros theory, tweeting out a lie about Soros and other Jewish Democratic donors attempting to buy elections.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, like Giuliani, accused Soros of not being truly Jewish. A prominent Republican lobbyist repeated unfounded claims that Soros had ties to the former US ambassador to Ukraine. President Donald Trump has promoted the theory of Soros bringing migrants to America.
Fox News, in particular, has been a bastion for Soros conspiracy theories. Earlier this year, host Tucker Carlson devoted an entire segment to claims that Soros is “hijacking” our democracy and “remaking” the United States. Last month, another host, Laura Ingraham, blamed Soros for GOP losses in Virginia’s state election.
Indeed, earlier this month Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League took the unusual step of calling out Fox’s role in the proliferation of Soros theories in an NBC op-ed with the blunt headline “Fox News is normalizing anti-Semitism even as violence against Jews surges.”
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This, then, is the state of the Republican Party as we enter a new decade as well as what will surely be a tense election year: An anti-Semitic theory has been embraced by the President of the United States, members of Congress and the No. 1 conservative cable network.
This is not simply an obsession with a prominent billionaire. It’s no longer a fringe theory. It’s not drunken ramblings by the ever-bumbling Giuliani. It is the world’s bloodiest anti-Semitic belief that has now become a tenet and a rallying cry for some of the biggest names in one of the two political parties in the United States.