There has been a lot of talk recently about dog whistles in politics, and it is something we have seen for many years.
So, what is a political dog whistle? It’s a tool used by politicians who want to say something that they know they shouldn’t, so they cloak it in such a way that everyone will know what they are talking about.
Unfortunately, these dog whistles are used most often in a racist context.
For example, the term “Welfare Queen” in the 1980s described recipients of government assistance. It was meant to conjure up a certain racist image, but with just enough ambiguity for plausible deniability.
Which brings us to the latest example: George Soros.
Soros is to be admired as a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and a self-made billionaire. He is a major philanthropist around the world and gives most of his charitable resources to what one would describe as progressive causes. As such, he has created a lot of animosity with his support.
In Soros’ nation of birth, Hungary, a country where he has given millions of dollars to various causes, he made many political enemies when he advocated for Hungary to treat asylum seekers humanely.
This prompted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to infuse strong criticism of Soros into his re-election campaign. Posters all over the country called on voters to support Orban in his quest to eliminate Soros’ influence in the country. This plays into classic anti-Jewish stereotypes, the kind in which Jews seek to control people and countries through financial means.
This campaign against Soros consciously stoked the anti-Jewish sentiment still endemic to parts of Europe. A parliament member of the Polish government’s ruling party said that Soros is a “supra-national lefty troublemaker” who is “openly and brazenly financing the anti-democratic and anti-Polish element with a view to fight Polish sovereignty and indigenous Christian culture.”
The attacks against Soros happen in America, too. His financial support of certain organizations has generated extreme animosity in some quarters. President Donald Trump has accused Soros of funding the migrant caravan. In a far worse example, Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, accused Soros of being a Nazi collaborator during World War II. (He was 14 years old when Germany surrendered in 1945.)
Even Kentucky is now subject to the Soros dog whistle. Last week, Gov. Matt Bevin mentioned Soros in a statement criticizing his support for ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization that recently gave the Courier Journal a grant to report on state government.
According to the Associated Press, Bevin questioned who holds the paper accountable, and said ProPublica is supported by “George, I hate America, Soros,” a billionaire who supports the Democratic Party.
According to ProPublica, Soros has provided less than 2 percent of the news organization’s funding.
Bevin’s criticism is not, in and of itself, anti-Semitic. Politically, criticizing (or praising) funders of causes is a common thing and we have seen names of other wealthy donors, Tom Steyer and the Koch Brothers to name a few, used for many different reasons.
What makes Soros’ references problematic is the ancient Jewish stereotype of the all-powerful Jew and its most recent use in Europe in a clearly anti-Semitic context. Most of the politicians who use Soros’ name are unaware of this context, and it is our job to inform them.
We informed Gov. Bevin’s office of this issue, and they were receptive when we pointed out the problem of using Soros’s name this way. We are optimistic that, as the anti-Semitic nature of this particular criticism becomes better known, its use will become less and less.
(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)